Editorial: City’s Best Gift of 2008: Revival of Rose Garden

Mercury News Editorial


The rose, eternal symbol of love and peace, is at the heart of the best civic gift to San Jose in 2008: the stunning revival of the Municipal Rose Garden.

Thank-you notes will be a challenge because they should go to hundreds of people around the Bay, from Fremont to Los Gatos to Palo Alto, who’ve responded to calls for help. They have pruned, deadheaded and otherwise nurtured the garden along Naglee Avenue in the neighborhood that bears its name. But the real credit goes to Terry Reilly and Beverly Rose (really) Hopper, who organized not only the volunteers but also a wholesale renewal of the garden. Along the way, they helped rebuild the city’s relationship with volunteers.

Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio shone a spotlight on the badly deteriorated rose garden in 2007, suggesting that its maintenance be outsourced. The resulting controversy energized Reilly and Hopper, who realized that volunteers were the way to help city staff bring the garden back and regain certification by All-America Rose Selections, which had placed it on probation.

That sanction was lifted this fall — an early Christmas present. But folks who visit the garden didn’t need a national board to tell them things had changed. The place looks fabulous.

Reilly and Hopper convinced the city that volunteers could work with the professional staff to maintain and restore the garden. They set up a training program for master volunteers who work without supervision — more than 100 of them now, together contributing around 50 hours a week. That’s not counting the special workdays that draw hundreds of volunteers for pruning and such.

They convinced the city to use cloth and mulch for weed control instead of poison. New pruning guidelines have led to lusher blooms. Reilly set up an amazing Friends of the Rose Garden web site — friendssjrosegarden.org/ — to help organize workers and document every step. (Check out the fun interactive maps and garden diagrams.)

And as a down payment on next year’s gift, they’ve launched a plan to plant 600 new bushes, some as replacements and others to fill out beds that have been sparse for years. The city will do the heavy lifting with grading and such, but Friends will provide the roses, most if not all donated by suppliers — a gift to the public worth more than $10,000.

The national certification group has done a case study of the Friends as a guide for other rose gardens. But can this model be applied here in Silicon Valley to other public spaces that lack the magic of roses?

Reilly thinks it can. And thanks to the success of the Friends, San Jose has policies in place to help. The key is finding the right connection.

“If a park isn’t used, it’s going to go downhill,” Reilly says. “If people are complaining about that — they’re the ones you can tap into. It can be done.”

Proving that may have been the best civic gift of all.