West Hartford's Elizabeth Park is a Must-See this Summer

Elizabeth Park's roses bloom in hundreds of beds.With more than 15,000 rose bushes and 800 varieties, the rose garden at Elizabeth Park in West Hartford is a must-see in June, when the blooms peak in vivid mounds of color. America’s oldest public rose garden (the third largest in the country) was designed by Swiss-born landscape architect Theodore Wirth and opened to the public in 1904. The rose garden occupies 2.5 of the park’s 101 acres, where Wirth created an extensive botanical park that has formal gardens, bulb/annual, perennial, shade/rock gardens and plenty of green space.

Smaller arches are covered in light pink 'Dorothy Perkins' roses.Roses engage many of the senses, but their allure is even greater than their intoxicating look, feel and fragrance. “That’s certainly part of the attraction, but they’ve endured through history and, as woody ornamentals, are tougher than many people imagine,” notes Andrea Masisak, Manager of Gardens, Grounds and Volunteers at the Elizabeth Park Conservancy. “The fact that they can suffer severe dieback in winter and come back again speaks to the resiliency of nature, which gives us all hope.”

This year’s blooming season promises to be better than ever. “I’m looking forward to seeing our newly planted ‘South Africa’ in bloom by the German breeder Kordes,” says Masisak, who has worked at the park since 2013. “I knew little about the park or its significance as the nation’s oldest public rose garden before coming to work here. My first memorable experience was a volunteer Saturday in May 2013 when a Tai Chi group celebrated World Tai Chi Day just outside the rose garden. It was poetry in motion.”

Although the roses are a huge draw in June, the park has a lot to offer year-round. “The rose garden is impressive in bloom, but my favorite garden of the park is the shade/rock garden for its secluded and subtle beauty,” says Masisak. “Elizabeth Park is one of this nation’s unique cultural landscapes where people of diverse ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds literally and figuratively share common ground. It represents the best of democratic ideals.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 2016 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Petal Pushers.