Was it only a few weeks ago I was demanding that everyone in the West plant only native plants? So what am I doing now going crazy over roses — roses that are most definitely not the native California Rock Rose? Well, because, as Gertrude Stein said, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. By which she probably meant: things are what they are. But she may have also meant that there is nothing quite like a rose. I can attest to this. As rigid as I am that only native plants should be cultivated in semi-arid environments, I will bend my rules for roses. Not that I’ve ever had any luck growing roses, but I will go out of my way to see them. Luckily, I live in San Jose’s Rose Garden District, so I don’t have to go far to brake for roses. In fact, I can walk to this historic garden from my house. And if you like roses, San Jose’s Municipal Rose Garden is a sight to behold. Once a prune orchard, this 5.5 acre plot was bought by San Jose in 1927, laid out by John McLaren (of Golden Gate Park fame) and quickly devoted to roses. It features more than 3,500 shrubs representing 189 rose varieties. It is an important test garden for AARS, the All-America Rose Selections, an horticultural society devoted to preserving rare and heirloom roses. The AARS has, for several years, named the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden “America’s Best Rose Garden”. My favorite story about the Rose Garden is that drastic budget cuts left it with little to no funding. Rose gardeners from far and wide donned floppy hats, wielded garden sheers and banded together to take over the park maintenance and to raise it to heights of glory beyond even when it had full city funding.
While I know nothing much about roses, except that I like them, I appreciate that there are many rare roses here that might be available for viewing nowhere else. If you are in the San Jose area, now is the time to put this on your agenda. Although roses have a long blooming season, apparently, the first bloom of spring is the most intense for color and aroma. It’s also the time that teenagers and brides flock to the garden to have their prom and wedding pictures taken here. You’ll also see many fashion shoots happening among the blooms. Recently, I saw a full-on Cinderella, in a costume so authentic and with a photographer so professional that it had to be some sort of Disney promo. But perhaps my favorite time in the Rose Garden is Sunday afternoon when large Indian families descend on it wearing saris and jackets that even rival the flowers for color and beauty. Again, the roses will bloom all summer, but not as intensely as they are now. Get down here!
The San Jose Municipal Rose Garden is at Naglee Avenue and Dana. Don’t be confused by the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden which is an entirely different garden in a completely different place. And try to come on the weekend when the Indian families are here.