June is the month when everything comes up roses. All over the country, there are rose festivals, rose tours, and rose bushes heavy with blossoms, from Elizabeth Park in West Hartford, Conn., the oldest municipal rose garden in the country, to Portland, Ore., which is nicknamed the "City of Roses."
"June is when the first bloom occurs for a good portion of the U.S., and the initial spring bloom is often the most impressive," said Tom Carruth, who in June will become the president of the All-America Roses Selection, the growers' association that tests varieties to find the best new roses.
Portland earned its nickname after thousands of pink rose bushes were planted around the city in 1902, but it has many other reasons to claim the title. The Portland Rose Festival, first held in 1907, celebrates its centennial this year, and has organized a "History and Roses" tour to help visitors find some of the early gardens in cemeteries, at historic sites and in various neighborhoods. The city's Peninsula Park Rose Garden dates to 1912, and its best-known rose garden, in Washington Park, was established during World War I, when roses were shipped there from European gardens to safeguard them from wartime destruction.
Carruth said the garden in Washington Park is "a lovely location on a terraced hill in the center of the city. It's just magical." He added that while roses can adapt to a variety of climates, Portland's cool, wet weather is particularly good for them. "It takes them so long to develop that when they do open, they're huge and the color is really intense."
The Elizabeth Park garden in Connecticut dates to 1904, while the Lyndale Park Rose Garden in Minneapolis, created in 1907-08, claims title to being the second-oldest municipal garden. Donna Fuss, Elizabeth Park's rosarian and founder of the Connecticut Rose Society, said many of these early 20th century gardens were established after new hybrid varieties became available. The hybrids could be planted in flower beds without the walls or fences that older climbing varieties needed.
"The old garden roses, prior to that time, only bloomed once a season and they weren't very big," Fuss said. "But these new hybrids were big, blousy, showy roses, wonderfully fragrant. People said, 'Let's have whole beds, whole gardens of roses!' Rose mania hit."
While June is prime rose-viewing time, a second round of rose events takes place in the fall. A rose festival - with great barbecue, according to Carruth - is held the Saturday after Labor Day each year in Wasco, Calif., headquarters of the All-America Roses Selection and home to many of its growers. The Municipal Rose Garden in Tyler, Texas, has its festival Oct. 18-21, while this year's American Rose Center festival in Shreveport, La., is Oct. 20.
At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Cranford Rose Garden in New York City, "June is most definitely the full bloom month," said spokeswoman Leeann Lavin, but a second bloom occurs in September or even early October, depending on the weather. In either season, she added, the flowers "are glorious, like jewelry."
You can experience the 21st-century version of rose mania at any of the following events or locales. Or click on "Public Gardens" at the of the All-America Roses Selection, for a state-by-state directory.