The roses of Buchanan Park have helpers, people who start in the winter, pruning the plants down to just a few one-foot tall canes.
The helpers rake the leaves, remove the weeds and fertilize the roses.
For 70 years, they’ve done this work.
This year, the roses had no helpers. COVID-19 kept them socially distant.
Yet right on time, these flowers bloomed on their own, in their space visible from the street but often hidden from our fast-paced lives.
The rose garden in Buchanan Park has varieties that climb high and roses that stay miniature. There are roses that look like white popcorn, roses that smell like fruit and roses the color of ketchup and mustard. It’s open to the public. Admission is free. This year, the volunteers who tend this space had a three-month break, but they’re back with masks.
“We do all of this work and we wonder, ‘Does anybody know?’ ” asks Laura Griffith, one of the helpers. She got an answer last week, when two women stopped to say they had come to the garden as children. Now they were bringing their own daughters for a visit.
From vegetables to roses
The rose garden has its roots in Lancaster’s victory gardens. The idea came from John Fritz, president of the committee that organized hundreds of these victory gardens during World War II. Any money left over after the war should be used for a civic gardening project, he said, according to LNP archives. After his death in 1947, his widow gave $560.77 to the Men’s Garden Club of Lancaster, which Fritz had founded. That’s about $5,000 in today’s dollars.
Roses were a natural choice for a public garden. At the time, the club arranged field trips to rose gardens in the region and later hosted its own rose show, eventually bringing in more than 700 entries.
The group picked Buchanan Park and came up with a design for the 100-square-foot garden: roses planted in semicircle rings with hemlocks framing the background and turf grass paths between the roses.
The Red Rose City would have plenty of red roses in this garden. The mayor of York donated 25 white roses. Members of the club planted common roses and patented roses like Helen Traubel (a pink blend named after the opera singer). The Donegal chapter of the Daughters donated 25 peace roses in honor of Lt. Robert Ritchey, a Lancaster officer killed in Korea.
By the time the garden was presented to the city in 1952, 668 roses filled the garden beds.
A civic duty with flowers
These days, the garden beds are filled with about 250 roses. They’re tended by volunteers of what’s now known as the Lancaster County Garden Club.
The white roses are gone and the group regularly replaces shrubs that didn’t make it through a tough winter. Since Trusz has taken the lead, he’s made sure each new rose has a name tag. Too many roses in the garden from the past have no tags and are mystery plants.
The city provides mulch and fertilizer and edges the beds. The garden club volunteers plant and maintain the garden. When a new rose is needed, Trusz and others from the club will pick one out at a local garden center. Lately, he looks for roses that smell good.
The rose garden might be missing a few name tags from older roses, but it’s clear there are floribunda roses (with many flowers), tea roses (which date back to the early 19th century), knockout roses (with long-lasting blooms) and more.
Roseanne Rogers points out a few favorites. There’s a deep purple rose and a yellow one called Julia Child.
“It’s quite fragrant,” says Rogers, who can walk to the garden from her Lancaster home. She considers lending a hand in the public rose garden as one way to do her civic duty.
She looks for out Arctic Ice, a lavender rose.
“If we cut this back it might come around by the end of the summer,” she says. “That’s our job, trim them back and hopefully they’ll push out again.”
The work in the garden was delayed by months this year. Now the volunteers are allowed back, they’re catching up with weeding, fertilizing and next up is snipping the dead flowers.
“The first week of June, they were beautiful,” Trusz says. “Now they need work.”
Pandemic or not, the next flush should return on schedule in September into October.