The Rose Garden is the center of Elizabeth Park. It is the first municipal rose garden in the United States and the third largest rose garden in the country today. Theodore Wirth began the design of the Rose Garden in September of 1903, and it opened in June, 1904. The Rose Garden began with about 190 varieties of roses; this eventually grew to almost 1,000 by the 1950s. Today, the Conservancy oversees and manages the Rose Garden, and needs to raise over $100,000 annually for rose expertise, full-time summer gardeners, contractor services, and fertilizer, mulch, lime, and replacement roses.
The original main garden, the “square,” is an acre in size and has 132 rose beds. The logo of the Conservancy is patterned after the square. Mr. Wirth’s original design of a square with a center circle and eight pathways remains today. The North and South gardens, which are semi-circular sections, were added later to make up a total of 2.5 acres of roses, 475 beds, and eight grass pathways. The wide paths were designed to accommodate larger crowds.
There are over 15,000 rose bushes and 800 varieties of old and new roses in the garden. Featured are hybrid tea, climbers, hybrid perpetual, and floribunda, shrub, and pillar roses, among others. Ramblers grow on arches that radiate from the “gazebo,” or Rustic Summer House, which is covered in Virginia creeper. The gazebo was built in 1904 as a part of the original plan. In 2005, it was reconstructed with the original plans using red cedar.
Elizabeth Park's Rose Garden became the first official test garden in 1912 for the American Rose Society founded in 1892, with the idea to test and to provide accurate information about roses for the public. This is when the half-circular section of the garden was added on the south side of the main square. In 1937, the American Rose Society asked the Park to add another semi-circle, which completes the garden of 2.5 acres as it stands today.
The arches are in full bloom in mid-June into early July, and are just spectacular. They only bloom once. Many of the other roses in the garden continue to bloom until the fall. The Rose Garden, the gazebo, and the arches in the Park are probably the most photographed and painted subjects in the Park, and are a recognized symbol of Hartford.
The names of the roses are often whimsical and interesting, such as Orange Dream, Lemon Drop, Dainty Bess, Topnotch, and Bride’s Dream. The Conservancy offers rose arch and rose bed dedications as a means of raising necessary funds to maintain the garden. The Rose Garden is a popular place for weddings and wedding photos. It is estimated that 15-20 weddings take place each weekend in peak season. The garden has been a beloved spot since it opened in 1904. Mr. Wirth’s vision to create a rose garden in 1904 has set Elizabeth Park apart from other city, regional, and national parks. He said he wanted a rose garden because, “Roses bring joy to the public.”