Stop and Smell the Roses at Point Defiance

Roses are red, violets are blue, and the Tacoma Rose garden is waiting for you. 

The rose garden located in Point Defiance Park has been blooming with life every summer since 1895. The man who started this beautiful garden was E. R. Roberts. He was born in North Wales and was no stranger to flowers when he ventured to Tacoma, having trained at many European sites (including Kew Gardens in England). Rodgers asked the local school children to bring clippings of a variety of plants from their gardens to plant in the public garden he was designing. This is how the beautiful rose garden that we all know and love today took root. 

“In the words of an 1898 Ledger article, ‘the school children of Tacoma have reared for themselves a memorial rosary of 100,000 plants, all grown from cuttings propagated entirely without irrigation, and furnishing flowers enough every summer to conduct a whole rose carnival.’  In response I can only say ‘Imagine pruning that garden!  And thank goodness for our dependable rain’” (Tacoma Rose Society).  

Photo Courtesy: Tacoma Library

The first official design of the rose gardens (once referred to as the Rose Arbor) was put together by Sidney J. Hare in 1902. The garden you see today at Point Defiance featuring the arc like rows of roses labeled so visitors would know the name of their favorite plants is an enlarged version of G.A. Hill’s design from 1912. Many of these early plantings in the formal garden were from the cuttings brought in by the school children  in the 1890s. 

Just before the rose garden took on its new design, the Tacoma Rose Society began, and the two joined forces and blossomed together. The Tacoma Rose Society, founded in 1911, is the oldest rose society in Washington State and has kept not only the Point Defiance rose garden blossoming, but also many other gardens around the city. The Tacoma Rose Society teamed up with Metro Parks Tacoma to keep the rose garden strong and healthy as well as keeping it up to date with new varieties of roses!

Photo Courtesy: Tacoma Library

One of the first big building projects the two groups worked on together was the fence around the gardens in 1997. A family of deer had recently decided to make the rose garden their home (and who could blame them), and after multiple failed attempts of keeping them out they decide to build a permanent fence around it the formal garden. Don’t worry, the deer didn’t move far and you’ll often see their decedents wandering through other parts of the park! Along with the enclosure, the two organizations worked together to put add an educational element to the garden through new signage by the relaxing and beautiful gazebo in the middle of the rose garden. The Metro Parks of Tacoma had a goal of putting up informative signs in all of their parks to help people learn about and understand the nature around them. 

Today, in addition to the rows and rows of traditional roses, the rose garden holds arbors of climbing roses, miniature roses, a picturesque wishing well and a quaint gazebo.  A quote from the Hare still resonates today, “Probably no other city in this country has such a beautiful natural park. Its setting, and relation to the city are unique and ideal … every citizen of Tacoma should feel it a duty and a privilege to become one of its guardians.”

Photo Courtesy: McKenna Ehrmantraut

The rose garden started with the donations of children in 1895, and it kept up by the donations that the Tacoma Rose Society collects from selling plants at their annual plant sale each March. Along with their plant sale they encourage people to strap on their gardening gloves and volunteer at the park for a few hours a week. If you want to help keep the bees buzzing in the rose garden by volunteering, click here

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