A New Rose Garden in the Niagara Peninsula

Greets Travelers with Roadside Roses

by Joyce Fleming

(as published in The Canadian Rose Annual, 1994, Ethel Freeman, Editor.)


It was an idea whose time had come. During the 1991 World Federat ion of Rose Societies Convention in Northern Ireland we had greatly admired the town and country plantings of roses. The memory stayed in the backs of our minds, and so, at an executive meeting of the Grimsby Garden Club we asked, "Why don't we plant roses along the highway that runs through our town like they do in Ireland?" For several years we had been funding plantings at local retirement communities, and we had a little money available for a new project.

When we were in Ireland, Sean McCan had pointed out that exhaust fumes from motor vehicles served as a deterrent to insects and diseases, so roadside plantings of roses made sense. The Garden Club executive was quite interested in the proposal and the President instructed us to see what we could come up with. So there we were, with our inspiration and the permission to try to see it through!

In the fall of 1992 we approached the Department of Recreation and Parks and suggested that the Garden Club would be willing to spend $1,000 to plant roses along the highway in front of the hospital. "No", we were told, "Services are buried in the area so you couldn't possibly plant roses there." Since that was the only site we had considered, we spent the next two weeks thinking about other possibilities. A busy corner at the east end of town seemed promising. A gradually sloping berm of clay soil had been recently constructed there to protect a new housing development and playing field from noise and pollution. The slope of the area would provide good drainage for roses.

Before we could take this idea to Bruce Atkinson, head of the Grimsby Parks Department, he telephoned us to ask if we were interested in the very same site. We were on the same wavelength!

At the next meeting of the Garden Club, the executive unanimously endorsed this location and approved $1,000 for the purchase of roses. We wanted to choose varieties noted for hardiness, disease resistance and low maintenance. Therefore, we decided to buy mainly shrub roses, many of which would be rugosas.

Soil samples from the site were sent to the laboratories of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in Guelph, Ontario. The results indicated that only nitrogen was lacking, and this could be remedied by the application of ammonium nitrate (33-0-0) at the rate of one kilogram per 100 square feet.

Meanwhile, we sent out specifications to three landscape architects, asking for a voluntary plan for the gardens. They were: the local landscape architect in town, a Garden Club member's son who was in his final year of study, and our daughter, Sheila, who was with the Toronto firm of Hough Stansbury Woodland Naylor Dance. We did not receive a reply from the local architect; the son of the Garden Club member was too busy at school; however, our daughter's firm approved of their staff becoming involved in some community service.

Her plan for this site, nestled low below the scenic Niagara escarpment, called for an inner semicircle of taller roses and three surrounding outer arcs of lower growing ones. At the berm side of the arcs, four ten-foot high trellises were to be added. They would extend an additional three feet into the ground to reach below frost level. The concept was that the gardens would be viewed as a series of steps; the escarpment in the background, the berm, the trellises to give height and architectural interest, the tall shrub roses and finally, the lower shrubs and ground cover roses near the road. Sufficient space would be left between the beds to give access to the town lawn mowers. The roses would serve as a cheerful welcome to travelers entering town, and the colourful hips would enhance the landscape all winter.

Members of the Garden Club received a progress report at each meeting and this sparked a great deal of interest in the project. George Pagowski of the Royal Botanical Gardens suggested roses that he felt most able to withstand salt spray from winter roads. However, we did not anticipate this would be a serious problem since the prevailing winds generally blow from the garden to the road. George also gave an illustrated lecture, which was very helpful. We kept the momentum up during the winter with another speaker, Bill Vanderkruk of Hortico Inc.

The Parks Department was extremely cooperative from the start and only asked that they be kept informed of our plans. They agreed to turn under the existing sod and prepare the beds. They would also spray and fertilize when necessary and supply mulch from the town's supply of wood chips. The Garden Club agreed to plant and prune the roses and keep them weeded. The bed preparation took place in the early spring of 1993. Although it was a time of tight budgets, the Parks Department offered to install the four trellises and the 20 pressure treated 4" X4" posts that would display the variety labels.

Drilling through the heavy clay proved to be very difficult work, but the Parks Department also installed two benches in concrete and a large stone bearing a plaque donated by a Garden Club couple. The last Saturday of April was designated "planting day" and seventeen volunteers turned out to help. The bare root roses had been ordered, ten to a variety, the previous fall from Hortico Inc. Some groups were divided in the planting, but most were planted in tens for mass effect.

The cultivars chosen are all hardy to Zone 6. They were: David Thompson; Champlain; Jens Munk; Great Ormond Street; Swany; Scabrosa; Yellow Frau Dagmar Hastrop; Dornroschen; Bonica; Rugelda; Monte Rosa; Rugosa repens rosea; Rugosa repens alba; Snow Pavement; Pierette Pavement; Morden Amorette; Sally Holmes; and Ville du Roeulx. The last variety is of interest because it is a product of chemical genetic engineering of R. rugosa done in Belgium.

The Parks Department watered the roses on planting day, and most of them have done well with no further irrigation. Fortunately, there was good rainfall in the spring. The June precipitation of 116.4 mm (6.5 inches) was the highest on record for June in 78 years. During the first growing season the total rainfall was only 356 mm (14.04 inches), compared to the 78-year mean of 420.8 mm (16.54 inches). However, because of the spring rains and the retentive quality of the clay soil, the garden still thrived. The Parks Department now plans to install a water outlet for the garden when it installs one for the playing field on the other side of the berm. There were legions of weeds that first summer, due to the sod content of the beds. Garden Club members worked in pairs, each for a two-week period, to weed the new beds.

September 26, 1993 was the date set for the gala ribbon cutting ceremony. This was just 18 months after the idea for the garden was first conceived. Invitations were sent to members of the town council, other dignitaries and to the Vanderkruks of Hortico Inc.

It was a splendid, bright and breezy day as the honoured guests and Garden Club members were piped onto the site by a piper in full regalia. Club President, Toni Sinclair, presided, and the Rev. Kathleen Hagey gave the opening prayer. As the Mayor of Grimsby and our Member of Parliament jointly cut the red ribbon, bugler Kenneth Tinnish of the Royal Regiment of Canada played a fanfare. At the reception that followed, cakes in the shape of the garden's curved beds were served.

An interesting story was told that day by Bill and Ria Vanderkruk. It seems that when Ria's aunt and uncle first came to Canada from Holland they stayed in the original farmhouse on this land and helped the owner grow and harvest the fruits typical of the Niagara peninsula - peaches, pears, plums, apricots, nectarines and apples (all members of the family Rosaceae. We had invited the granddaughter of this original landowner to the Opening Ceremonies, and she told us that her grandmother's handsome 1880 brick home had been surrounded by roses. Her grandmother had loved the roses and had entered her best ones in the local shows of the day. It is very gratifying to know that at least a small portion of this farm land is still devoted to the culture of the rose.

Garden Club members feel a great source of pride that they were instrumental in establishing this small, but lovely, garden. The site has room for more beds, and these will be created in stages as funds from the Garden Club become available. We believe this garden has a rosy future. It can be used for pruning demonstrations and student botanical studies. It can also serve simply to delight eyes and noses! "A garden", said Gertrude Jekyll, "is a grand teacher", and it is to be hoped that this garden will be that and more.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The new rose garden in Grimsby has been named The Fleming Rose Garden in honour of Joyce Fleming, a rose hybridizer and enthusiast, and her husband Bob, a well-known garden broadcaster in the Niagara peninsula and a former staff member at the Horticultural Research Institute of Ontario at Vineland Station.