A year after its precious plants appeared imperiled, Sacramento’s most famous rose garden has never looked lovelier.
“It looks pretty spectacular this spring,” said Anita Clevenger, curator of the Historic City Cemetery’s rose garden, on Saturday morning as she directed volunteers. “It’s been trimmed and weeded as it’s never been. With all the climbers in place, it’s really lovely.”
Volunteers busily raked and snipped in preparation for the cemetery’s annual Open Garden celebration Saturday. Hundreds of patrons are expected to turn out for guided tours of the cemetery’s three themed gardens and the chance to take home some rare rose plants, too.
“A year ago, I wasn’t so sure this would still all be here,” Clevenger noted.
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Proposed city guidelines restricting where and how plants grow around the monuments have been put on hold as city staff and volunteers plan for the cemetery gardens’ future. The guidelines would have forced the removal or relocation of dozens of rare plants.
“It’s such a tremendous asset to the city,” Christopher Conlin, Sacramento’s director of parks and recreation, said of the garden. “It’s a real testament to the volunteers and families who have kept up plots.”
The city will soon issue a request for proposals to replace the 30-acre cemetery’s antiquated irrigation system, Conlin said. “We’re asking landscape architects to do initial planning. We’ll then review those plans.”
Conlin expects the irrigation retrofit to be part of the city’s 2017-18 budget. “It’s not cheap,” he said, noting that repairs could be more than $500,000. “But it’s urgent we do something.”
A cultural landscape technical advisory committee will be part of the review process, Conlin said.
Meanwhile, the cemetery’s three gardens have thrived on extra attention from volunteers and visitors. In addition to more than 500 rare rose bushes, the cemetery features gardens devoted to perennials and California native plants.
Considered among the world’s best collections of Victorian-era roses, the cemetery rose garden contains many varieties not found anywhere else.
“We’re entering the rose silly season,” Clevenger said. “It’s the best time of year for rose lovers.”
While dozens of volunteers worked in the gardens Saturday morning, more than 80 people toured the cemetery as they learned about Victorian symbolism on the monuments. Troy Glasson, a cemetery guide for five years, regaled the crowd with tales from the crypts.
“We’re not quite full,” he noted of the cemetery, which opened in 1849. “We still have about a dozen burials a year.”
During the tour, Gail Patrice of Sacramento snapped photos of flowers. Her mother, Marilyn Fuqua, was a longtime rose garden volunteer. After her death at age 93, her remains were added to the family’s plot, one of the cemetery’s original gravesites.
“I’ve gotten a lot more interested in history,” said Patrice, who also has started volunteering. “There’s a solitude I love here. People are all on the same page now and trying to preserve it.”
April is the busiest tour month at Sacramento’s historic City Cemetery. All events are free except the Romance & Roses tour. Here are some highlights:
9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday: Open Garden Day. Guided tours at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. of the cemetery’s three featured gardens plus a history tour at 11 a.m. Many patrons come for the sale of rare rose plants and books.
6:30 p.m. April 15: Romance & Roses tour highlights romantic tales of the cemetery’s residents while strolling through the rose garden at twilight; $10 donation.
10 a.m. April 22: Old Garden Rose Class. Learn how these century-old rose varieties differ from modern hybrids.
10 a.m. April 29: What’s Blooming in Hamilton Square tour focuses on the cemetery’s perennials garden.
Where: Historic City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway, Sacramento