Rededication ceremony celebrates return to blooming status

By Mary Gottschalk 4-30-09

There’s plenty to celebrate at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, and the Friends of the San Jose Rose Garden are planning to do just that on May 2.

“The Rose Garden has really had a rebirth.  We have gone from probation to elation,” says Beverly Rose Hopper, co-founder of the Friends group.

“We want people to know that the garden is not how it was two years, three years or four years ago when the beds were choked with weeds and the roses were dead or dying.

“It’s been renewed, rejuvenated and restored.”

In celebration of the garden’s rebirth as well as its latest honor in being named the sole official test garden for the All America Rose Selections in Northern California, there will be a rededication ceremony on May 2 at 11:30 a.m.

The 11-acre Rose Garden, at the corner of Naglee and Dana avenues, is home to more than 3,500 plantings and close to 190 varieties of roses.

Once a showcase that attracted visitors from all over the world, the garden started suffering seriously when San Jose cut back on staffing there in 2005.

The timing couldn’t have been worse as in 2004 the AARS, the nonprofit association of rose growers, sent the city staff a warning letter.  In April 2005 it followed up with a letter putting the garden on probation, citing “severe garden decline.”  Budget cutbacks combined with poor horticultural practices resulted in neglect: diseased and dying roses and rampant weeds.”

Ironically, that same year, the city spent $2 million on upgrading the park with new fences, walkways and renovated restrooms..

In April 2007, newly elected District 6 City Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio staged a news conference in the garden, calling for park maintenance to be taken away from city staff and outsourced to a private firm.

Fellow council members rejected the idea, but the ensuing publicity about the garden’s decline led to the formation of the Friends group.

By September 2007, the Friends were regularily scheduling group volunteer days and training master volunteers to work on their own time.  They now have 120 master volunteers and a database of more than 700 volunteers from throughout Silicon Valley who have come out occasionally to help.

Harry Garcia can be found most mornings in the garden wearing a green master volunteer vest.

The Willow Glen resident says he puts in at least two hours and sometimes four on each visit, honoring the memory of his daughter Melissa, who was just 18 when she died in 1995.

“It makes me feel good,” says the retired adaptive physical education teacher.

“My oldest daughter loved roses, and she died in 1995 of lymphoma.  Gardening makes me feel better.  I love being near dirt.”

Some days he deadheads, other day’s it’s pulling weeds or snipping off suckers.

“I do whatever is needed,” he says, often stopping to answer questions from out-of-town visitors who come to the garden.

Master volunteers receive a gold star for their vests for each 10 hours they put in.  Garcia’s vest already has 23 stars.

The efforts of Garcia and other volunteers were rewarded in December 2008 when the garden was taken off probation and regained accrediation.

The fact that it’s now an official test garden is more good news, according to Hopper.

“People can come out and see the roses of the future,” she says.  “We’ve planted roses that won’t be available for sale until 2013.  They go through a two-year testing process nationwide, and to be one of only 23 test gardens in the country is a huge honor.

“It says wonderful things that we have turned this around,” she says.

Hopper is quick to say that while she and Friends co-founder Terry Reilly are often the visible representatives of the group, the credit goes to both the volunteers and the staff.

While some nearby residents were critical of the garden staff in the past, Hopper has nothing but praise for Lance Loveday, the current head gardener, and Hugh Lykins, the current groundskeeper.

“They have been 100 percent supportive,” she says.  “They are always there and always helpful.”

“The city cannot do it all, and the volunteers cannot do it all, but look at what we’ve achieved when we come together.”

The Friends group also solicited new rose plant donations from nurseries including Weeks Roses, Star Roses, Coiner Roses, Jackson & Perkins and Regan Nursery.  The 735 donated bushes are all now in the garden.

The garden also benefited from Brandon Chapman’s Eagle Scout project.  The Lincoln High School senior made new identification markers for each rose bed, so now when visitors see a rose they like, they can easily find its name, its type and the year it was introduced.

To spotlight the actual work volunteers regularily do in the garden, the May 2 event will start off with a massive volunteer deadheading effort.  Anyone who wants to participate is invited to bring shears and gloves and join in.

It’s no coincidence that the deadheading and rededication are taking place the weekend before Mother’s Day weekend.

“Mother’s Day is the busiest weekend of the year at the Rose Garden, the absolute busiest time,” Hopper says.

The rededication will include San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Oliverio, with special guest Tom Carruth, president of AARS and considered one of the top rose hybridizers in the world.  Carruth is the man behind AARS winner “Betty Boop,” “Julia Child,” “Scentimental” and “Strike it Rich.”

Rededication ceremony of San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, Naglee and Dana avenues, May 2.  Registration for raffle prizes is 9 a.m.; volunteer deadheading and ribbon cutting is 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and lunch and ice cream is 12:15 to 1:30 pm.