I had a few errands yesterday that took me past New Britain and, even though it was raining, I felt I needed to stop and smell the roses at the Walnut Hill Park Rose Garden.
The rose garden is relatively new, being a replacement for the 1929 rose garden which was demolished at some point in the late twentieth century after years of neglect. The new rose garden was planted in 2010 by the Friends of Walnut Hill Park Rose Garden and consists of eight hundred rose bushes representing seventy-five different varieties of type, color, and fragrance. At peak bloom, the garden is a carefully controlled riot of color and scent.
The 1929 rose garden had been planted by James Burke, the city’s gardener, on the eastern slope of Walnut Hill Park, along Grand Street. The current garden makes use of established flower beds near the World War I memorial and admirably suits the site. This location also allows the garden to be accessible to strollers, wheelchairs, and walkers, creating a space that is truly open to everyone.
The park itself was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, a Connecticut-born landscape architect who designed many parks around the country, including Central Park in New York. In Connecticut, he had many private and residential commissions, as well as several major parks:
Beardsley Park (Bridgeport)
Institute of Living, grounds (Hartford)
Keney Park (Hartford)
Seaside Park (Bridgeport)
Walnut Hill Park (New Britain)
Elizabeth Park is one of my favorite public gardens. Managed by the Elizabeth Park Conservancy in partnership with the City of Hartford, it is one hundred and two acres of delight. Everyone talks about the Rose Garden — the first municipal rose garden in the United States — and it is magnificent in mid-June with all the roses in bloom and the warm air heavy with scent and buzzing of bees. However, the other gardens are just as worthy of adoration.
The Heritage Rose Garden contains, unsurprisingly, old varieties of garden roses including Bourbons, Chinas, and Damasks. Officially, an Old Garden Rose is a class of roses that existed before 1867. After that, we have Modern Roses — hybrid teas and floribundas you’ll find in most gardens today. Old garden roses tend to be extremely fragrant and, I am told, less fussy, but may only bloom once during the year whereas the modern rose is a prolific, showy bloomer. Granted, my own experience with roses is limited, but everything I’ve read about them makes me think OGR are superior in a home garden.
The Herb Garden, a charming space with gravel paths and stone edged beds, was installed in 1998 and is maintained by the Connecticut Unit of the American Herb Society. The garden is divided into four quadrants anchored by lavenders. Much of the garden is carpeted with a variety of creeping thymes and, on warm days, bees are everywhere. Lamb’s-ear, chives, and borage are usually plentiful, too. If you have ever thought about creating a kitchen garden or landscaping with herbs, this is the garden for you.
The Connecticut Dahlia Society and Connecticut Iris Society have display gardens bordering the Herb Garden and they are always a joy to explore in their seasons.
For more information about Elizabeth Park, checkout the podcast Grating the Nutmeg, Episode 115 “America’s First Public Rose Garden – Elizabeth Park.”