Roses Bloom at Elizabeth Park


June is the best time for visiting gardens that feature roses, and there's no place better in New England than Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Connecticut - the home of our country's oldest public rose garden.


The property was once called Prospect Hill, the Hartford farming estate of wealthy businessman and politician Charles Murray Pond, and his wife, Elizabeth. When he died in 1894, Charles left his entire estate to the City of Hartford for a public park in his will. The estate consisted of 90 acres and a generous fund to purchase additional land, hire a park designer, and for maintenance. He requested that the park be a botanical park and named after his wife, Elizabeth, who was an avid gardener.

Swiss-born landscape architect Theodore Wirth was hired as the park superintendent, and he worked with the firm of Frederick Law Olmstead to design this new space. Elizabeth Park reflects a combination of both schools of landscape design with European formal gardens and Olmstead's natural setting with serpentine roadways, sweeping vistas and peripheral trees.

The rose garden is the centerpiece of Elizabeth Park, 2.5 acres in size with 475 beds and over 15,000 rose bushes and arches. The arches are in full bloom in late June to early July, and are just spectacular. They only bloom once. Many of the other roses continue to bloom until the fall.

If you visit in June, be sure to see the separated Heritage Rose Garden —one of the few in the country. Also known as Old Garden Roses, Heritage Roses—Albas, Bourbons, Centifolias, Damasks, Chinas, Gallicas, Hybrid Perpetuals, Moss, Noisettes, Portlands and Teas—are extremely fragrant and bloom only in June. These roses are exhibited in raised beds that form a five-petaled rosette symbolizing a centifolia or 100-petaled rose, which is the typical form of a heritage rose.


I grew up just a few miles from Elizabeth Park, and have a personal connection to the rose garden. My neighbor and friend Donna Fuss became a stay-at-home mom when her children were born, and developed a passion for gardening, especially for roses. She and her husband Mike planted a small formal rose garden in a corner of their backyard, and as their passion for roses grew, added more and more rose beds throughout the yard. They started entering rose shows, judging, and co-founded the Connecticut Rose Society. Donna’s hobby evolved into a second career, and she became the consulting rosarian to Elizabeth Park Rose Garden. Knowledgeable, outgoing, generous, and funny, Donna became an ambassador for Elizabeth Park - fondly known as the “Rose Lady.” She shared her garden enthusiasm with everyone she met, and I owe some of my garden passion to Donna.

In addition to its rose gardens, Elizabeth Park has several other notable gardens. The Perennial Garden is formal in design, with a central wooden pavilion adorned with Clematis Jackmanii. Enclosed by a hedge of dwarf Japanese yew, the garden features 1,600 perennials arranged in “cool” and “warm” color beds accented by silver grey foliage.

The Tulip and Annual Garden is planted with 11,000 tulips each fall for a spectacular spring display, and features a American Flag in summer.

The Shade Garden features mixed plantings of herbs, perennials, ornamental grasses, woody shrubs, and small evergreen and deciduous trees. Several horticultural groups design, plant, and maintain gardens in the park. These specialty gardens include the herb garden, dahlia display garden and iris garden.

After touring the gardens, you can have lunch at the Pond House Cafe located withing the park. The cafe features eclectic cuisine made with fresh, local ingredients. The menu changes to reflect the seasons.

Elizabeth Park is open 365 days of the year, dawn to dusk, and is FREE to the public. There are no admission fees.

Elizabeth Park is one of the gardens profiled in The Garden Tourist, a book of 120 destination gardens and nurseries in the Northeast, which will be published in fall 2017.




The Quest for the Perfect Rose

Cinderella Rose, photo courtesy of palatine roses

Cinderella Rose, photo courtesy of palatine roses

Every year I focus on updating a different section of my garden, and this is the year of the rose bed. I have always grown roses in my garden - in fact they were the first flowers that I planted when we moved into our house in 1992. Six roses came on the moving truck with us from the city -  I grew them in pots on the porch of our rented apartment in Somerville, and overwintered them in the unheated stairwell. They went into the ground in a circular bed in my front yard, created by the previous owner's leaf pile that had been left there over the winter. Most of them did not survive that exposed, windy location, pummeled by northwestern winds all winter long. I was a novice gardener, and did not realize that my tender hybrid teas needed winter protection. But despite my lack of success, I was determined to grow roses in my garden.

Aloha Rose was one of the roses that I brought from my city apartment, and it blooms to this day on my trellis.

Aloha Rose was one of the roses that I brought from my city apartment, and it blooms to this day on my trellis.

I created new beds in sheltered locations, and ordered barefoot rose collections - hybrid teas from Jackson and Perkins for the bed bordering my stone garage, fragrant David Austin roses to grow along the fence. The roses were undoubtedly fussy plants - ravaged by aphids and Japanese beetles, and stripped of their leaves due to blackspot and other fungal diseases. Despite winter protection, some reverted to their Blaze rootstock, so instead of a yellow shrub rose, I ended up with another red climber that bloomed only once a year.

But when they were in bloom, the roses were gorgeous. Every year, my children lavishly decorated the table with roses for my Mother's Day breakfast, and made elaborate bouquets for my June birthday celebration. They even brought me a bouquet of my roses when I was in the hospital one early November. So even as I debated whether I should continue growing these beautiful, fussy flowers, I knew that I could not give them up. I decided to go on a quest for roses that were winter hardy, disease-resistant, fragrant, re-blooming, and had the "cabbage-rose" look of old-fashioned roses that I love.

a birthday bouquet made by my daughter

a birthday bouquet made by my daughter

At the Connecticut Flower Show, I attended a wonderful lecture by Mike and Angie Chute (RoseSolutions) entitled "Twenty-Five Fabulous Roses". Mike and Angie just published a book of 150 easy to grow, sustainable roses: Roses for New England: A Guide to Sustainable Rose Gardening. I was delighted to learn about roses that could be grown here in Massachusetts without winter protection and without constant fungicide or pesticide application. Most of these are hybrids that have been developed in the last 15 years. While Mike shared his list of 25 favorite roses, I asked him to point out those that were also fragrant. Sadly, in an effort to hybridize for hardiness, disease-resistance and a long season of bloom, modern hybridizers had sacrificed fragrance. Of the 25 roses on Mike's list, only 6 were fragrant.


I also found a second excellent guide to disease-free roses by Peter E. Kukielski, Roses Without Chemicals. Peter is the former curator of the rose garden at New York Botanical Garden, and this book highlights 150 tough new varieties of roses that perform well in all kinds of conditions. Each rose in the book has a detailed description along with a point rating which includes scores for disease resistance, bloom, fragrance and an overall score.

Cross-referencing both lists, culling out only fragrant roses and those with full, cabbage-rose heads, choosing those hardy to our zone and those that grew in a particular size range, I came up with a list of about 15 roses. Now the challenge was to find them for sale. I decided to order them via mail-order so that I could get them in the ground early. Nurseries often do not have roses until May. I was also looking primarily for bare-root, because I think that it's easier to establish bare-root shrubs in the garden. Some nurseries have already closed bare-root orders for the season. In the end, I was only able to find about half of my list, and placed my orders at White Flower Farm, Heirloom Roses, and Palatine Roses in Canada.

My final selection (from top left): Ascot, First Crush, Lion's Fairy Tale, Mother of Pearl, Pomponella, Summer Memories, and Cinderella (top of page). I'm very excited to try these new roses, and will let you know how they perform!

(Rose photos courtesy of Palatine Roses)