Today’s gardeners can take a life lesson from generations long past. All it takes is a visit to Sacramento’s Historic City Cemetery and its public gardens.
Saturday, April 8, the cemetery celebrates its living showcases with its annual Open Garden Day, featuring free tours, plant and book sales and silent auction. It kicks off a busy month of tours and special events at the cemetery, which dates back to 1849.
In a parklike setting, the cemetery’s volunteers are continuing what the Victorians started – the tradition of tending roses, perennials and other favorite flowers planted around the gravesites.
“Why plant something that’s going to die?” rose garden curator Anita Clevenger said. “Why not plant something that will bloom again and again?”
Named one of the world’s great rose gardens by international experts, the cemetery collection contains more than 500 bushes and 325 different varieties, including several not found anywhere else.
“It’s not just the number but the size of the roses,” Clevenger said. “They’ve been allowed to grow to their full potential.”
Hundreds of patrons turn out for Open Garden Day, she noted. Many get there early for a chance to take home rose bushes propagated from the rose garden’s collection of rarities. Sales help pay for the garden’s upkeep and volunteer efforts.
“People line up along the fence before the gates open to get first crack at the sale roses,” Clevenger said. “Last year, we had 85 waiting in line. When we open the gates, I call it our ‘Run for the Roses.’ ”
In addition, this year’s sale will include books about roses from the library of garden co-founder Barbara Oliva, who died in October 2015.
“Some of these books are pretty special,” Clevenger said. “Barbara collected them from all over. A few are signed by authors or from Europe. Like old roses, these books are hard to find.”
A year after new city guidelines appeared to put some roses at risk, the gardens are still growing strong. Plans are in the works to install a new irrigation system with a request for proposals from landscape architects due out soon.
Meanwhile, volunteers have been hard at work maintaining the cemetery’s spectacular gardens. In addition to its famous Victorian rose garden, the cemetery features the Hamilton Square Perennials garden and the California Native Plant Society garden.
“We redoubled our efforts,” Clevenger said. “We want a perfect balance of cemetery and roses. In our garden, you step into the past. It continues to be a very unique experience.”
Part of the garden’s mission is to keep these rare roses from becoming extinct, she added. That includes getting more people to grow them in their own gardens.
“Our whole goal is to help people learn about these roses and preserve them,” she said. “They’re great for drought-tolerant gardens. They’re the kind of roses that will survive in our climate.”
These older varieties are better equipped to cope with neglect, Clevenger noted. They can survive bad pruning, lack of water and other issues – and still look gorgeous. They’re easy to grow for novice gardeners, even ones with decidedly non-green thumbs.
Added Clevenger: “If dead people can grow them, so can you.”
What: April is the busiest tour month at Sacramento’s historic City Cemetery with tours and special events. All events are free except the Romance & Roses tour. Here are some highlights:
- Saturday, April 8, 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m.: 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.
- April 15, 6:30 p.m.: Romance & Roses tour highlights romantic tales of the cemetery’s residents while strolling through the rose garden at twilight; $10 donation.
- April 22, 10 a.m.: Old Garden Rose Class. Learn how these century-old rose varieties differ from modern hybrids.
- April 29, 10 a.m.: What’s Blooming in Hamilton Square tour focuses on the cemetery’s perennials garden.
Where: Historic City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway, Sacramento