Activities U.S.

Kelleher Rose Garden

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Although my mom died in 1977, her love of roses compels me to visit gardens whenever and wherever I travel. (Favorites include Biltmore Estate, Selby Botanical Gardens, and Winterthur Gardens.

Leaning in to sniff a red rose can transport me back to our little rose garden nestled in front of my Silver Spring duplex house. The delectable scent of a rose—Lipton tea bags, grass, air—who can define its perfume? I think the rose is the aroma of summer.

“God gave us our memories so that we might have roses in December.”

J.M. Barrie

I can see my mom in my mind’s eye posing me in front of her rose bushes dressed in my Easter frock. Her smile would bloom like a rose when she snapped the button on the Polaroid.

In honor of my mom (Helen), I decided to spotlight one of the most extravagant rose gardens which I ever visited.

Back Bay Fens

Kelleher Rose Garden is located in Back Bay Fens in Boston. If you love roses, this is a must-see destination in the city (along with the homes of its famous writers). And it is free!

“Come out here where the roses have opened. Let soul and world meet.”

Rumi

America’s first landscape designer—Frederick Law Olmstead—transformed what was a foul tidal marsh into a public park in the late 1880s. What was once an area of blight became one of America’s most beautiful parks.

In the early 1900s, landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff designed the rose garden. “A passion for public rose gardens swept the country in the early 1900s. 

In 1931, Shurcliff designed a circular formal rose garden opposite the Museum of Fine Arts, where the general public as well as rose enthusiasts could learn about rose culture and enjoy the flowers.”

Here was a destination for the family to promenade after church on the weekend. Or a place to eat a picnic lunch midweek. Or an evening rendezvous after work.

Emerald Necklace Conservancy

But this famous Boston rose garden was in decline by the late 20th century. Thankfully, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and the Boston Parks and Recreation created a master plan for the Kelleher Rose Garden revitalization.

Using the original landscape drawings, planting beds, and walking paths were recut. New rose plantings required the rejuvenation of soil and a new irrigation system.

The end result was a rose sanctuary to delight Bostonians and visitors alike. 

“Of all flowers, methinks a rose is best.”

William Shakespeare

For those “rosarians” seeking education, new Kelleher Rose Garden signs helped educate visitors about the roses. 

Kelleher Rose Garden Reflecting Pool

Meander down the rows of roses, stopping to sniff at each new variety. Rub a velvet rose petal. Sniff the perfumed air.

Then head for the renovated reflecting pool to sit quietly among the statues and admire this rose community. There are four new cherubs encircling the fountain (recreated from old photographs.)

Types of Roses

The Kelleher Rose Garden contains more than 10 classes and 200 varieties of roses. There are almost 1,500 plants in total. The garden includes All-America Rose Selections, Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora Roses, Braided Pattern of Pink Roses, Climbing Roses, Floribunda Roses, Fragrant Roses, David Austin & Polyantha Roses, Miniature Roses, “Justine Mee Liff” Roses, Braided Pattern of Pink & White Roses, Shrub Roses, and Shurcliff-era Historic Roses.

The “Justine Mee Liff” rose honors Boston’s late Parks Commissioner. Paul E. Jerabek hybridized the rose and planted it in the Kelleher Rose Garden.

Hours of Operation

The Kelleher Garden is open Monday through Friday (7 am to 5 pm) as well as Saturday and Sunday (10 am to 5 pm) from May through October. Volunteers meet Tuesday evenings from 5:30-7:30 pm throughout the season to deadhead and weed.

Rose Quotes

Below is my photo essay with help from some favorite writers on why the world loves roses.

“Love is like the wild rose.” – Emily Brontë, The Complete Poems

“A profusion of pink roses bending ragged in the rain speaks to me of all gentleness and its enduring.” – William Carlos Williams

“Wild roses are fairest, and nature a better gardener than art.” – Louisa May Alcott

“I’d love to have the whole place swimming in roses.” – James Joyce, Ulysses

“There is simply the rose; it is perfect every moment of its existence.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am so grateful that my mother taught me to love flowers and nature as a little child. My best memories are sitting on her lap on our porch, breathing in the scent of the roses wafting on the summer breeze.

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. – Abraham Lincoln

Happy Mother’s Day!

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  • Kateryna
    May 13, 2023 at 11:17 am

    Beautiful garden! Really took me there with all the flower photos 🙂 – thank you

    • Terri
      May 13, 2023 at 12:11 pm

      I am obsessed with taking photos of flowers. The variety of roses was spectacular. I need to link to my IG video.

  • Irma
    May 13, 2023 at 11:44 am

    An absolutely magical garden 💖

    • Terri
      May 13, 2023 at 12:10 pm

      I loved visiting it with you Irma! I can still remember the fragrant scent of the roses.

  • Laureen Lund
    May 13, 2023 at 11:48 am

    Oh my goodness. How have I never heard of this? We go to Boston frequently and now I need to add this to my list. So beautiful. Thanks for showing me something new!!

    • Terri
      May 13, 2023 at 12:10 pm

      Laureen, you can spend an entire morning wandering around the rose garden and the public garden. We had so much fun!

  • Deirdre Jenkins
    May 13, 2023 at 1:49 pm

    There is something so special about rose gardens. It’s also a very sweet sentiment to your mother.

    • Terri
      May 13, 2023 at 3:19 pm

      Thank you Deirdre. Roses are a delight for all the senses!

    • Elena Koleva
      May 13, 2023 at 6:17 pm

      Beautiful garden:). Thanks for sharing with us.

      • Terri
        May 13, 2023 at 8:07 pm

        The roses are amazing.

  • Michelle
    May 13, 2023 at 5:42 pm

    These are so many great places to visit in Boston, and the Kelleher Rose Garden definitely makes that list. I love the little reflecting pool!

    • Terri
      May 13, 2023 at 8:07 pm

      I loved how they recreated the reflecting pool when they renovated.

  • Hannah
    May 14, 2023 at 12:53 am

    What a beautiful garden and a way to honor and remember your mother. My dad died 10 years ago and it still feels fresh; he planted the roses and orange tree in our backyard, which I will always cherish.

    • Terri
      May 14, 2023 at 6:24 am

      Thank you Hannah. I am sorry for your loss. We are lucky that we had parents who were gardeners. You must have wonderful memories of his planting the roses and orange tree!

  • Mohana Das
    May 14, 2023 at 4:17 am

    What a beautiful garden! I am amazed by the number of varieties they have!

    • Terri
      May 14, 2023 at 6:23 am

      I particularly appreciated how they had signs identifying the different varieties and types.

  • Linda Jane
    May 14, 2023 at 7:55 am

    Roses are my favourite flowers & I would love to visit the beautiful Kelleher Rose Garden! A lovely post! Thank you1

    • Terri
      May 14, 2023 at 8:33 am

      I hope you get to visit this rose garden one day. The varieties are exquisite! 🌹

  • Pam
    May 14, 2023 at 1:32 pm

    Absolutely stunning. I love roses as well and am learning how to grow my own – so I love visiting rose gardens like these. It’s great that you remember your mom through them too! Happy mother’s day! <3

    • Terri
      May 14, 2023 at 5:54 pm

      Happy Mother’s Day. It is wonderful that you are learning to grow roses. They are so beautiful!

  • Brittany
    May 14, 2023 at 5:33 pm

    This is a lovely garden and lovely photos! I would love to visit the next time I am in Boston. Happy Mother’s Day!

    • Terri
      May 14, 2023 at 5:53 pm

      You definitely need to visit the rose garden in the summer to appreciate all the varieties. It is a treasure.

  • Ketki
    May 16, 2023 at 12:53 am

    So pretty and so nicely maintained. Love all the spread of colors..

  • Tish
    May 16, 2023 at 8:54 am

    Terri the pictures of the rose gardens are gorgeous! Roses are my favorite
    Want to visit there sometime thanks

    • Terri
      May 20, 2023 at 8:27 pm

      The rose garden is spectacular!