By Mary Muller for Your Public Media
For more than a century, the month of June has drawn visitors to Hartford’s Elizabeth Park to enjoy the amazing spectacle of the park’s world famous Rose Garden in full bloom. Postcard views in the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society chronicle the lasting appeal of this garden over time. Today, the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden boasts 15,000 bushes and about 800 varieties of roses and is the oldest municipally operated rose garden in the country.
The land for Elizabeth Park was donated to the city of Hartford in 1897 by wealthy industrialist Charles Pond, and the park was named in memory of his wife Elizabeth. The park itself was designed and landscaped by Olmsted and Son, but the renowned Rose Garden was created in 1904 by Theodore Wirth, the park’s first superintendent. This was Wirth’s first project in the park because, in his words, “it would please the people.”
Wirth drew on garden designs from France and Italy as inspiration to create the Rose Garden. He planned eight arched walkways that spread out from a center like the spokes of a wheel. A different variety of rose was used in each walkway. The famous rose arches, all over 100 years old and part of Theodore Wirth’s original 1904 design, are still there today.
In the 1970s, the community almost lost the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden. The city of Hartford decided it could no longer afford the expense of the garden’s upkeep and decided to plow it under. A committed and dedicated group of volunteers organized in 1977 to form the Friends of Elizabeth Park and save the Rose Garden. Since then, this group has assisted in maintaining the Rose Garden, as well as the other horticultural gardens in the park, and helps assure the preservation of this treasure for future generations.
Mary Muller is the Lead Museum Educator at the Connecticut Historical Society.