Tale of Two Rose Gardens

By Beverly Rose Hopper


San Jose has two world-class rose gardens, each containing about 4,000 rosebushes. It’s important to know how they are related, yet how they differ. The San Jose Municipal Rose Garden is a historic landmark park containing primarily modern roses. The Heritage Rose Garden is a modern garden containing primarily historic roses. Confused? Let me explain.


In a nutshell, the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden is a rose garden in a park setting, and the Heritage Rose Garden is a rose garden that serves as a botanical collection.
Quite different, but they compliment each other. Ironically, both gardens are located on the same street – though it’s called Naglee in front of the Muni and Taylor in front of the Heritage. Still confused? It may help to know the history why these two distinct gardens were created.


Famed architect John McLaren, who also designed Golden Gate Park, designed the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden in the early 1930’s. The plan was and is, for the 11 acre garden to be a world class garden, filled with thousands of roses amid expansive lawns, picnic areas and a reflecting pool (later transformed into a fountain) It was to be a showplace for Santa Clara County, drawing visitors from across the USA. That was true then, and with the recent restoration by Friends of the San Jose Rose Garden, it is true once more.


Initially the garden was planted with the popular roses of the day, but it also contained roses of historic interest, including roses from the California Missions and cuttings from roses grown by Martha Washington. As the decades rolled on, some of these roses died a natural death, and others were removed because they were no longer fashionable. We don’t have exact dates when these treasures were lost, most likely after World War II during the 50’s when America was looking to the future. The very latest varieties were planted each year, and visitors flocked to the garden to see what’s new. In fact, as an All-America Rose Selection (AARS) garden, the Rose Garden receives award-winning varieties in advance of being released to the public. With the recent upgrade to AARS Test Garden status, visitors can see the roses of the future – varieties planted in 2010 for evaluation won’t be on the market until 2014.


Most modern public rose gardens are filled with modern roses. Old garden roses, some which had survived hundreds of years, were becoming at risk of being lost forever. In the late 1980’s, Tom Liggett, a supporter of the Rose Garden but also an old rose aficionado, began promoting the idea of a public garden that would preserve these classic roses. Liggett’s concept was for a botanical collection, or a “rose encyclopedia” rather than a mass display of roses. The collection would contain rare or endangered roses, roses that may be rare in the future, roses of importance to hybridizing, and also unknown and modern roses of note, hence “heritage” roses. As the Heritage Rose Garden was intended as a preservation site rather than a park, a previously unusable plot of land under the flight path of the airport could be utilized. In addition the project was pitched to the City as low/no-maintenance; no-spray, all-volunteer, and initially no deadheading. There would be no lawns; restrooms, picnic facilities, water features or other structures that would require maintenance other than drip irrigation and the roses themselves.


The Heritage caused a sensation in the rose world, because there was no other collection like it in the USA, or even perhaps in the world. In recognition of this, it was the first inductee in the Rose Garden Hall of Fame by the organization Great Rosarians of the World (GROW). Jill Perry is the current Curator of the Collection, and the Heritage is a joint venture with the City of San Jose and the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy.


Friends of the San Jose Rose Garden and the transformation of the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden have also caused a sensation. FSJRG has received much press, many local and national awards, including recognition by California State legislators and the US Congress. FSJRG strives to set high standards and we are proud our program is being used as model by other communities. We are grateful for our wonderful volunteers and the public/private partnership with the City of San Jose.


Though there have been many changes over the decades, the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden has returned to its roots as a showplace, a destination, an oasis of tranquility and beauty. It is as one volunteer said, a place one “can breathe.” In fact, after a nationwide contest by the All-America Rose Selections it has been named “America’s Best Rose Garden.”


Serious rose fans will want to become well acquainted with both gardens. As they are located within 5 minutes of each other, it’s easy to do. Plan on picnicking at the San Jose Municipal, as facilities at the Heritage are quite limited. But bring your camera to both!


Beverly Rose Hopper
Co-Founder Friends of the San Jose Rose Garden. Nationally recognized rose expert, Master Rosarian and American Rose Society Horticulture Judge. Author, lecturer, including appearances on television and radio. Contact Beverly@FriendsSJRoseGarden.org

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