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.
Table of Contents
Back Bay Fens
“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.
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!