THE HISTORY OF THE ROSE GARDEN
In late 1959, a new Rose Garden was sited at the Wright Avenue entrance to Schenectady’s Central Park in an area that originally had been a stone-dust covered tennis court. Charles D. Brown, a Schenectady Rose Society member, was its designer and established its care program.
Much of the first year was spent digging the beds and refilling them with clay loam and composted soil. In April of 1960, 400 rose bushes were planted to start the garden. More were added in the fall. In the following year, several hundred additional hybrid teas, floribunda and grandiflora roses were introduced to the garden.
Subsequent years saw the addition of the rockery pool, a triangular fountain, and a reflection pool. The number of rose bushes grew to 4,000. In 1968, a Japanese lantern and arched bridge over the creek were installed below the main garden. Weeping cherry trees were later planted around the creek and a small dam was added to create a reflection pool under the bridge.
The garden peaked in the 1970s with an estimated rose population of 7,500 bushes and the All-America Rose Selection (AARS) group added the garden to its select list of 125 test gardens around the country. This honor entitled Schenectady’s Central Park Rose Garden to become a public display garden for new rose varieties for the coming year, before they are released to the retail market and garden centers. The garden was the first recipient of the American Rose Society newly created award for “outstanding public garden” February 10, 1970.
During the 1980s, as businesses and residents moved to the suburbs, city budgets were stretched to the breaking point due to a reduced tax base. As a result, gardeners and park personnel were laid off or retired. Because of this, the garden suffered a severe decline until it hit bottom in 1993. Rose bushes were stressed from the lack of care and many had died. Weeds were choking out the bushes everywhere. Because of the garden’s poor condition, the All-America Rose Selection group put the garden on probation as a test garden. The AARS group’s recommendation was that unless the garden’s condition improved considerably, its test garden status would be discontinued.
Several concerned citizens and rose lovers decided to get together to see what could be done to stem the tide of garden deterioration. The garden’s guiding light, Charlie Brown, had passed away in 1988. Bill Seber, Supervisor of City Parks and Recreation Department, asked Dave Gade, a member of the Schenectady Rose Society and an evaluator for the AARS, who had been mentored by Colonel Charlie Brown, to attend this meeting. In 1995, the Rose Garden Restoration Committee was formed. Dave Gade served as the first President until 2005 when he stepped down to assume the role of Garden Operations Supervisor.
Over the next 5 years, a new watering system was installed, over 3,000 new rose bushes were planted, and heavy duty PVC edging was added as well as some concrete benches. In 1999, a routine fungus spraying program was initiated and a part-time gardener was hired. Four cedar rose arbors, were added at the garden entrances.
To support these efforts and bring more people into the garden, an annual garden party was started in the spring of 1996. This popular event continues to this day. Over time, 100 memorial bushes have been planted in honor of crime victims. A walkway comprised of engraved bricks was begun as another fund raiser. This also helps to make the garden more handicap accessible.
The group of volunteers headed by the Rose Garden Restoration Committee’s Garden Operations Supervisor, Dave Gade, has improved the garden to such an extent that it is no longer on probation with the AARS, but now has an “outstanding” garden status. In fact, it has returned to its former prominence as a destination in the City of Schenectady for residents and visitors. On a visit to the garden, one might see a wedding party, painters or photographers, volunteers tending to the roses, or a small group doing their morning Tai Chi.