Surrounding a civic treasure, the Woodland Public Library garden has quietly become a showpiece in its own right.
Located a block off Woodland’s busy Main Street in the heart of the city’s historic district, the library garden is more than a place to snuggle up with a good book. Filled with about 600 rosebushes and dozens of companion plants, the picturesque garden has become an urban oasis with an international reputation.
“It’s a labor of love for all of us,” said Maryellen Mackenzie, president of the Woodland Library Rose Club.
Sunday, the club will host its 25th annual garden tour featuring six private gardens as well as the library’s own large garden. Attracting about 200 patrons, the tour is the largest annual fundraiser for the library garden’s upkeep.
“The first tour was in honor of the dedication of the original memorial rose garden,” Mackenzie said. “That’s how this all started.”
With about 60 bushes planted under 100-year-old palms, the memorial rose garden still welcomes visitors to the library’s main entrance. But it’s been joined by a series of other themed gardens and plantings that now circle the 1905 Mission Revival building, the oldest working library in the United States originally funded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie.
With the plants reflecting the earliest days of the town’s pioneer settlers, the library garden spans the history of Woodland, which was incorporated in 1871. On an arch-shaded walkway, scores of rare roses date back to Gold Rush days. Nearby, modern roses reflect the evolution of America’s favorite flower.
For the depth and breadth of its collection, the Woodland Library garden was named an international “Garden of Excellence” by the World Federation of Rose Societies. It’s the same award that was earned by Sacramento’s Historic City Cemetery rose garden, Mackenzie noted. Woodland was one of only four gardens nationwide to receive the award last year. Last summer, Mackenzie and club member Marcia Nelson accepted the award at the federation’s World Rose Convention in Lyon, France.
“I’m still in shock we won that award,” said Mackenzie, noting that a new plaque marking the honor will be dedicated in a May 14 public ceremony.
“The Woodland Library Rose Club wanted to underscore the values of this small city by planting a beautiful garden of roses around their historic library,” wrote antique rose expert Gregg Lowery in his nomination of the library garden. “They might have simply planted a lovely display with no particular theme or mission. But they chose instead to educate and delight their visitors by offering a wide range of rose types and weaving them into a path of discovery and history.”
The Woodland Library Rose Club started with a much simpler, straightforward purpose, Mackenzie said. Bonnie Freshwater, then president of the Friends of the Library, founded the garden club as a means to beautify the library grounds.
“They had just put on a new addition to the library, but there was no money left for landscaping,” Mackenzie said. “So Bonnie started a garden club to get the job done. The Woodland High School football team came and took out all the old dirt and put in good soil. It was a community effort. Bonnie had a vision to have a rose garden outside the library, and she was a force to be reckoned with.”
Eventually, the garden club took over space next to the library, the former site of a used car lot. They planted perennials, bulbs, herbs and other plants among the many roses.
A sensory garden now invites visitors to touch as well as smell the flowers. A stretch next to the parking lot features unusual species roses such as yellow Rosa primula. What once was a bland walkway behind a stucco wall became a rose history tour with several examples of Victorian-era blooms.
“It’s just beautiful when all the arches are in bloom,” said club member Chris Bowey, co-chairwoman for this weekend’s tour.
The community has come to love the garden, too, Bowey said. Lining paths through the garden, commemorative bricks bear the names of dozens of local supporters. Memorial benches provide spots to rest among the roses.
The 120-member club has maintained a strong and positive relationship with the library and the community, Mackenzie said.
“The library supports us 100 percent,” she said. “They really appreciate what we do. And they do still save on landscaping.”
25th annual Woodland Library Rose Club garden tour
Where: Start at Woodland Public Library, 250 First St., Woodland
When: Noon-5 p.m. Sunday, April 17. (Rain date: April 24)
Admission: $20 general, $10 youths (under age 18). Buy tickets at www.shop.woodlandlibraryroseclub.com. Tickets also will be available at the library garden from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. on the day of tour.
Also: The Woodland Library Rose Club will celebrate its “Garden of Excellence” honor at 11 a.m. May 14. The public is welcome.