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Join The Celebration: It's The Year Of The Rose



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Join The Celebration: It’s The Year Of The Rose

WEST HARTFORD — The Rose Garden in Elizabeth Park was opened to the public in June 1904, seven years after the park itself was created. It was the first municipal rose garden in the United States.

One hundred years later the public still visits Elizabeth Park to enjoy its roses. Of the park’s 102 acres, the rose garden comprises nearly 2½ acres of cultivated roses – 15,000 blooming rose bushes arrayed in beds, on arches and on fences throughout the fragrant garden. Between 700 and 900 varieties of roses bloom annually.

The park is at the corner of Prospect and Asylum avenues on the Hartford-West Hartford line.

Elizabeth Park is open dawn to dusk every day of the year, and admission is free. Parking is also free.

The park is a haven for horticulture with its many gardens, trees and shrubs. Its centerpiece, however, is still its world-famous rose garden. There the public can enjoy the beauty and the scents of the garden or use it as a reference for the types and cultivars of roses.

In the late 19th Century, Charles and Elizabeth Pond lived on a lovely estate on Prospect Avenue in West Hartford. Mr Pond was a wealthy industrialist and statesman whose career included the work with New York-New Haven-Hartford Railroad, Hartford National Bank, and as treasurer of the State of Connecticut.

Legend has it that after the death of his wife, the philanthropist began to consider his own mortality and thinking about what he wanted to do with his estate. He had no direct heirs, so Mr Pond decided he wanted to do something special for Hartford. Mr Pond reportedly had great admiration for the capital of Connecticut.

With the help of some friends who were active in the Parks Commission he agreed to bequeath his estate to his beloved city. When Mr Pond passed away in 1894 all of his land and half of his liquid assets were left to the city of Hartford. His stipulations were that the land be used for a horticultural part and that it be named for his late wife Elizabeth.

Mr Pond’s nieces and nephews – to whom the other half of his liquid assets had been left – argued to will and so the land along Prospect Avenue was left in limbo until 1896, when all legal issues were resolved.

In 1897 the city officially took possession of the land that is now Elizabeth Park. Theodore Wirth was hired to be the park’s first superintendent and the designer of Elizabeth Park. Mr Wirth used his English background in designing the park to be Victorian, which accounts for the park’s original gardens and paths.

(The firm of Frederick Law Olmstead was also brought in, which added sweeping vistas and peripheral trees to the design.)

One of the first gardens Mr Wirth planted was a small garden of 100 roses, ten each of ten varieties. By 1903 the roses totaled 1,000 and it was at this point that Mr Wirth went to Hartford Parks Commission and formally requested permission and funding for a large municipal rose garden to be the centerpiece of the park.

The Friends of Elizabeth Park was formed in 1977. At that time, the gardens in the park had fallen into disrepair and were being sorely neglected. The Hartford City Council faced budget cuts that threatened to destroy the gardens. A group of volunteers formed the Friends to raise funds to provide a much needed boost to the ailing park.

Since that time the Friends have raised funds to renovate and improve the gardens and buildings, purchase plants and supplies, and increase the awareness and enjoyment of Elizabeth Park.

This year The Friends of Elizabeth Garden is introducing Elizabeth Park Centennial, a limited edition rose to honor 100 years of roses. Elizabeth Park Centennial was hybridized by John Mattia of Orange, a nationally known rose grower and exhibitor. Mr Mattia has donated all of his royalties to the park.

Mr Wirth’s original rose bed configuration still stands. Many of the roses have been changed over the years for various reasons but approximately eight beds – and most of the roses on the fences, as well as arches in the heritage garden – are the original bushes. Today it is also home to All-American Rose Selection (AARS) test gardens.

The Elizabeth Park Rose Garden is the third largest rose garden in the country. The only two rose gardens that are larger are The International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Ore., and Tyler Municipal Rose Garden in Tyler, Texas.

Today Elizabeth Park is also home to perennial and annual gardens, a shade garden, rock and herb gardens, tulip beds, dahlia beds, a wildflower meadow, shrubs, greenhouses, ponds, and more than 100 tree species.

The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rose Weekend

Elizabeth Park’s 100th anniversary rose garden celebration, “Rose Weekend,” is planned for Friday through Sunday, June 18-20. All events are free and open to the public.

The weekend will open with a 7 pm concert on Friday by Connecticut Opera. The performance will be on the north lawn of the rose garden.

Events on Saturday will include face painting, Cakes on Parade, poetry readings, and “Music in the Rose Garden,” a classical music performance.

On Sunday there will be a rose show by Connecticut Rose Society, more face painting, a performance by The First Company Governor’s Foot Guard Band, and another “Music in the Rose Garden” offering.

The garden hosts programs year-round. Call 860-231-9443 or visit www.ElizabethPark.org for details.

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