Debbie Arrington

Year after controversy, historic cemetery’s roses remain rooted

Sacramento Historical Cemetery Rose Garden's curator worried about new guidelines

The Sacramento Historical Cemetery Rose Garden's curator, Anita Clevenger, raises concerns about the city's new guidelines for the garden and what it will mean for the flowers, many of them rare and historical.
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The Sacramento Historical Cemetery Rose Garden's curator, Anita Clevenger, raises concerns about the city's new guidelines for the garden and what it will mean for the flowers, many of them rare and historical.

Stephen Scanniello, a rock star in the rose world, returns to Sacramento this week for three appearances including two hands-on pruning demonstrations at the Historic City Cemetery’s famed rose garden.

This will be the third January trip to Sacramento by Scanniello, president of the Heritage Rose Foundation and among the world’s foremost authorities on old garden roses. He’s also the curator of the famed Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden in the New York Botanical Garden, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

Anita Clevenger, curator of the cemetery’s historic rose garden, is happy that there are still hundreds of local roses to prune. At this time last year, the garden’s world-famous collection of rare roses appeared threatened by new city guidelines on the cemetery’s gardens.

“There’s no plans to move anything right now – which is good,” she said. “We’re keeping things trimmed, cared for and beautiful.”

Concerns about possible damage to the cemetery’s monuments brought recommendations that several of the rose garden’s large climbers and oversized shrubs be severely pruned back or moved. That caused an outcry among rose lovers, not just in Sacramento but nationwide.

A moratorium on the issue kept the roses rooted where they’ve grown for decades. In April, city officials announced that a new technical advisory committee would be formed including experts on “cultural landscapes, ornamental horticulture, conservation and preservation planning.”

That committee is still being put together, said Sacramento Councilman Steve Hansen, whose district includes the 30-acre cemetery.

“We’ve had our cooling-off period,” Hansen said last week. “We’re moving forward in a way that’s good for everyone. We need to get it right.”

Meanwhile, Hansen is focusing on irrigation. The cemetery’s antiquated system is badly in need of replacement.

“I’ve been working to identify resources for irrigation and making sure not to undermine the historic part of the cemetery,” Hansen said. “It’s going to be a $1 million fix. The irrigation (system) was so under-maintained for decades, it’s a real mishmash. Nothing is inexpensive, especially when dealing with a project as sensitive and complex as this one.”

Scanniello will do his part to keep those rare roses looking good. At 9 a.m. Jan. 14 in the Historic City Cemetery, he’ll demonstrate how to care for large climbing roses. At 1 p.m. that same day, he’ll lead a session on pruning tea and China roses.

In addition to his cemetery demonstration, Scanniello will discuss rose garden design at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center in McKinley Park. This free event is hosted by the Sacramento Rose Society.

“After Stephen’s last visit, our climbing roses never bloomed so beautifully,” Clevenger said. “He takes quite a different approach to pruning than what you see in books. He wants the climbers’ (floral) display at different levels, so he cuts the canes to different lengths. He clears out the clutter so the roses can breathe. And he’s just full of stories that he shares the whole time he’s demonstrating. It’s worth it just for the entertainment.”

Rose expert comes to Sacramento

Stephen Scanniello, one of the world’s top authorities on old garden roses, will make three public appearances in Sacramento this week:

▪ 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12: Scanniello discusses “Designing With Roses,” how to use roses in garden landscapes, big or small. Shepard Garden and Arts Center, 3330 McKinley Blvd., Sacramento. Free. Details: www.sactorose.org.

▪ 9 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 14: Scanniello will demonstrate how to prune large climbing roses. Historic City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway, Sacramento. Suggested donation: $10. Details: www.cemeteryrose.org.

▪ 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14: Scanniello turns his attention to pruning tea and China roses. Historic City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway, Sacramento. Suggested donation: $10. Details: www.cemeteryrose.org.

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