Death of a Rose Garden

by Dawn Tavares
Broadcast Friday, October 1, 1999

I spent the weekend digging up my garden.

Well, not my garden. The Municipal Rose Garden in Sugarhouse Park. Nearly eight hundred rosebushes. It's hard not to feel proprietary. For three years I have weeded, pruned, and sweated over the roses in these beds. As the Public Garden Chair for the Utah Rose Society I have written reams of grant submissions and public service announcements. I have moved mountains of mulch. I have joked, pleaded, and scolded people into volunteering their time. I have cut flowers for children to take home. Joggers, dog walkers, parents with baby strollers have complimented me on the beauty of the blooms. The soft, rich soil crumbling through my fingers has fed my soul as well as "my" flowers.

Now the executive board of the Utah Rose Society has decided to yank the roses.

The Sugarhouse Park Authority wants the rose garden redesigned for easier maintenance - about a third the size of the existing beds. The Rose Society executive board reasoned that, as long as the flower beds would be rebuilt, why not replant them with new roses. People would be allowed to dig up whatever bushes they liked all month. As of October first, any rose that had not found a good home would be doused with RoundUp.

So I went seeking homes for abandoned roses. I couldn't possibly rescue all of them by myself. I could only spread the word and show up day after day with tools and maps and planting advice and hope that plenty of people would care enough to rescue roses free for the taking.

My first plea went to the volunteers who had been most reliable for me in the garden this year. About a dozen of the Utah GOTHICS answered my call for help. Goths are romantics and dreamers. I knew they'd offer a second chance at life to any long-stemmed, blood-red rose.

Every visit I made to the park I saw a few more bushes gone, a few more holes in the ground. The final weekend was particularly good. People ebbed and flowed through the garden until sunset. A woman from work took home twice as many bushes as she had planned. Almost everyone did. I now have biceps to rival my brother's.

The garden was down to 200 roses by the end of the day. My hope is for nothing but rootstock left by the time the poison rains. That's not realistic, I know.

I spent my last hour collecting the signs that identified the varieties. Some I had to leave where they had fallen, the older nametags embedded in concrete cylinders heavy as tombstones. Many of these signs identified bushes that had been moved from the very first rose garden in Salt Lake, which had once graced South Temple at Holy Cross Hospital. These bushes had survived drought and record-breaking winters and dessicating winds. Old roses with old-fashioned names: Promise. Cherish. Peace.

Now all that's left is to say my goodbyes. Let go. I'll swing by the garden and take home any small bush that hasn't been claimed by the deadline. Just a couple. That's what I tell myself. The unspoken half of my soul wants me to leave the garden as I remember it, a minefield of ragged holes and broken limbs and buds brimming with hope. I can't save all of them.

I hope the new rose garden becomes a reality. I hope next spring will see another mad exuberance of color and fragrance. I hope photographers and art students will return to capture the light of summer on rose petals. I hope the Rose Society is pleased with their brand new roses.

It isn't my garden anymore.

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