The Story of the Heritage Rose District of New York City Project
In the spring of 2009, the New York Times ran a story that was about heritage roses with a focus on Mr. Harison of 'Harison's Yellow'. Betty Vickers and Doug Brenner joined me in the planting of heritage roses that once grew in Harlem - the site of Trinity Church Cemetery in New York City. The roses were donated by Gregg Lowery and Mike Shoup. We planted: 'Souvenir de la Malmaison', 'Mme. Boll', 'Harison's Yellow', Rosa gallica, 'Fellenberg', 'Rose du Roi, 'John James Audubon' (one of Mike Shoup's creations - the cemetery was created on Carman's estate, close to Audubon's estate), and a rose we found in Baltimore with study name of "Greenmount Red".
The article mentioned the Heritage Rose Foundation. A week after the article ran, I received a phone call from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. His office was interested in talking to me about the rose plantings. Their dream: to create a Heritage Rose District in the neighborhood of the cemetery, an area that includes the newly founded historic district of Audubon Park. The city of New York has invited the Heritage Rose Foundation to help create the first ever Heritage Rose District.
There have been two meetings with the Borough President's Office since this phone call. What Paimaan Lodhi, Urban Planner, wanted from HRF was to become the authority, the final voice on what roses should be included, and experted advice on how to grow roses. They were very excited about moving forward with this project.
Community groups, historical societies, and cultural institutions have enthusiastically embraced this project. These institutions include: Morris-Jumel Mansion, Church of the Intercession, Trinity Church Cemetery, Hamilton Grange, Hispanic Society, Harlem and the Heights Historical Society, City College of NY, Hudson River Restoration Project (funded entirely by Bette Midler), and numerous community groups as shown in the List of Organizations and their links at the end of this article.
All of these groups that accept roses will care for them. Each group has an army of eager volunteers.
Over thirty different sites are under consideration for homes of over a hundred donated heritage roses. (see the map here).
The Heritage Rose District generally encompasses the western portion of Northern Manhattan between West 130thand West 162nd streets, with Broadway and Trinity Cemetery (final resting place of George F. Harison and Daniel Boll) at its nexus. The neighborhoods of West Harlem and Washington Heights – both with ample open spaces and a rich history – provide a perfect setting for growing and displaying roses, especially when plantings are inspired by local heritage.
This year, volunteers will plant over a hundred heritage rose bushes at the following nine sites within the Heritage Rose District: Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum, Church of the Intercession, the plaza at 155th Street and Riverside Drive, Audubon Terrace (the former site of John J. Audubon’s estate), Broadway Malls at 153rd Street and Broadway, Morris-Jumel Mansion (the oldest house in New York City), Montefiore Park at 137th Street and Broadway, Jackie Robinson Park at 145th Street and Edgecombe Avenue, and City College Campus on Amsterdam Avenue between 136th and 137th Streets.
The NYC Department of Parks & Recreation has generously committed to constructing and maintaining a new, permanent planter at the corner of 155th Street and Riverside Drive, as well as provide soil, compost and water for all of the rose bushes that fall within the Parks Department’s jurisdiction. In each instance, all of the roses being planted are varieties that once grew in Manhattan during the 18th and 19thcenturies. In fact, many of the roses were originally grown in gardens located in Northern Manhattan.
Roses came also from Cris Maurer and me. Malcolm Manners and the Florida Southern College also want to donate musk roses and Bermuda Mystery Roses as well. Irises were donated by Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, Cris Maurer and Betty Vickers.
Planting events were scheduled for October 24 and Earth Day (40th anniversary next year).
Then came the D-Day!
October 24, 2009; Despite the threat and strong possibility of terrible weather, this was really happening!
The 100 roses were all there, Rosa Mundi was there, and many volunteers were on hand to plant.
Borough President Stringer said, “Today, we’re re-introducing some native New Yorkers with deep roots back into West Harlem and Washington Heights. Having this area become known as the nation’s first Heritage Rose District will bring a big dose of flower power to a place of rich cultural and historical significance.”
Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe said, “We are happy to partner with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to create a Heritage Rose District in West Harlem and Southern Washington Heights. Thanks to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Manhattan Community Boards 9 and 12, these roses will dress up some of our parks along the Hudson River waterfront. None of this would be possible without the efforts of ‘It’s My Park! Day’ volunteers, who are spending the day beautifying these sites.”
Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said, “New Yorkers can take great pride in today’s groundbreaking of the nation’s first official Heritage Rose District, and I congratulate all the residents of Harlem and Washington Heights. It is appropriate that these historic neighborhoods will now be dotted by beautiful, traditional roses. Thanks to all the volunteers participating in today’s planting.”
My message was, “The Heritage Rose District of New York offers a unique opportunity for the Heritage Rose Foundation to put into action its Mission: to preserve heritage roses and promote their culture; to establish gardens where these roses may be grown and displayed; to foster public knowledge and appreciation of heritage roses and their preservation. We hope that this will start a trend across the country.”
We had some protestors convinced that the planter will attract rats. Welcome to NY, dear roses. May you be protected by the spirits of M. Harison and M. Boll...
Betty Vickers said:
"We also had participation of a positive nature. Some of the neighborhood kids jumped into the big planting bed at City College New York, first assisting Lee Ginenthal (who donated big, beautiful cold-climate roses and drove them to the site for us!), then heading over to give Stephen and Dana hand. Mommas watched proudly (if a bit warily – what ARE these people doing??) And up at Morris-Jumel Mansion, Camilla Huey had the assistance of a group of Bronx teenagers, all about to graduate from high school, full of plans to go off to college next year! I was delighted beyond words when one of them turned over a spade full of earth, found a tulip bulb, and – in great surprise - said, “Yo!” These kids created a bed for the roses, first removing roots that were almost as big as they were."
All in all, there was more neighborhood participation in this project than any I have ever been involved in. It was amazing.
[Some of the information in this article provided by Paimaan Lodhi from the Manhattan Borough President's Office.)
See the List of Roses planted in 2009 here.
List of Organizations involved in this project :