April 29, 2010 

Section: Local
Edition: Valley Final
Page: 1B
Scott Herhold, sherhold@mercurynews.com

If you were to accuse Terry Reilly of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, he would not disagree very much. He might tell you that the roses he cares about at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden come in all hues — scarlet, white, peach and pink.

Reilly, a voluble, fair-complexioned man who co-founded the Friends of the San Jose Rose Garden, is deeply engaged in rose politics. He’s campaigning to have the garden selected as America’s Best Rose Garden in an online vote.

If the San Jose garden wins — and Reilly says early reports are promising — it just might remind the rest of us of how a once-neglected municipal treasure has returned to health with volunteer and city help in the middle of a brutal recession.

Five years ago, the garden was put on probation by All-America Rose Selections, an association of rose growers, because of a series of horticultural felonies and misdemeanors: Insufficient pruning, deadheading and weeding, along with the use of a threatening herbicide, Roundup.

Now the Rose Garden backers are posting fliers on telephone poles, soliciting votes on the back of Zanotto’s sandwich wrappers and promising iPad voting in the park to people who attend a big volunteer day this Saturday. (Go to www.friendssjrosegarden.org to vote and learn more.)

This is like a runner who suffered a career-threatening ACL injury returning to compete in a world-class sprinting championship a few years later.

Not surprisingly, some polite trash-talking has ensued. On Twitter, Reilly recently challenged the Dunn Formal Rose Garden in Birmingham, Ala., to arm-wrestle for votes.

Naturally, the competition contains a heavy dose of PR. Rose gardens aren’t mobile or heavily televised. Unless you’re a rose fanatic, you probably don’t know the difference between the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden and the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden in Hartford, Conn.

But it is an excuse to spur on municipal pride, which is the part of the campaign that the San Jose people are counting upon. “If anything, it’s going to show who’s the most aggressive and progressive in their skills in communicating to the city they’re in,” says Tom Carruth, an AARS board member.

The San Jose Rose Garden’s renaissance is as much a political as a horticultural story. With initial qualms from unions but with the help of a sympathetic councilman, Pierluigi Oliverio, Reilly and Friends co-founder Beverly Rose Hopper campaigned in early 2007 to allow more volunteers to take care of tasks like deadheading, weeding and pruning.

Now they rely on city maintenance workers and 900 volunteers to care for roses like the Chrysler Imperial or the lovely yellow test rose known as 09R406. The Friends banished Roundup and instituted unconventional pruning methods to maximize color and bloom.

“We wanted people of all ages and ability to participate,” says Hopper, who has moved to the Sierra Foothills but returns often to the garden. “We didn’t want to be rose snobs.”

The All-American Rose Selections people will tally votes, then send out judges to the five most highly-ranked gardens. To the extent that San Jose’s story offers an example, the volunteers are hopeful.

“The AARS wants people to go out and get their hands dirty,” says Reilly. “I don’t think any garden promotes that more than San Jose.”

– BYLINE: San Jose Mercury News