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Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Everything’s Coming Up Roses


A new design for the United States’ largest public garden that is dedicated to roses.

American Rose Center celebrates its 50th anniversary

Arose by any name smells sweeter in Shreveport.

The American Rose Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It was established in 1974 and serves as the national headquarters for the American Rose Society.

The 118-acre property in west Shreveport, with 40 acres of gardens, is the largest public garden in the United States dedicated to roses. It receives no government funding.

At the 1968 American Rose Society convention in Atlanta, Ga., local rosarians learned of the ARS’ interest in moving. In 1971, local Rose Society members invited the ARS Selection Board to visit Shreveport via private plane to see the roses growing in the boulevards and parkways.

The ARS was founded in 1892, organized in 1899 and incorporated in 1921.

The deed for the gift of land was signed in 1970. In 1973, bids were taken for the first phase of construction – the administrative visitor center and the 50-foot carillon tower.

Its bells chime on the quarter hour and top of the hour, and it is the site of many weddings. There is no exact record of the number of weddings in the center’s chapel, says Claire Bissell, executive director, but the Rose Center is hosting a reunion on Oct. 24 for couples married there to renew their vows.

In January 1974, the ARS moved its library and office equipment to Shreveport. In December, the formal opening of the headquarters was announced for May 1975. On May 10, despite bad weather and construction delays, the new American Rose Center was opened to the public.

A four-part series by Carrie Bergs tells these stories of the people and events that have shaped the center since Horace McFarland first outlined his vision for a “Rosarium of the American Rose Society” in 1935.

With 80 members, the Shreveport Rose Society was founded in 1962. Members were prominent citizens with great interest in seeing their “City on the Grow” continue to thrive. Roses were hugely popular in Shreveport, thanks to the efforts of H. Lane Mitchell, the commissioner of public works, who responded to the call for urban beautification by installing rose beds throughout the city. More than 14,000 rose bushes were planted and maintained by public works staff in city boulevards and parkways and around civic buildings.

Tyler, Texas, which deemed itself the “rose capital of the world,” passed a resolution asking the ARS to seriously consider Tyler. But Shreveport was buzzing over the news that the largest single plant society in the U.S., with more than 17,000 members, was considering the city as the site for its new headquarters.

Thousands of rose books, some very rare, get the white glove treatment in the library. The oldest book is “Ros Rosarum, Ex horto poetarum” from 1786 — Latin rose poetry.

One of the most valuable books published by the ARS is the 1916 American Rose Annual – not for its dollar amount but because it is rare.

Annuals often come from deceased members’ families.

Visitors see roses of almost every class and color. Scents include tea, fruity, myrrh and light apple. There are 73 individual gardens with thousands of varieties designed to inspire the home gardener.

Big names have been involved throughout the years. In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed a bill making the rose the national floral emblem. Mary Johnston, wife of former Senator J. Bennett Johnston, helped make this happen.

One of the oldest rose varieties, Fantin-Latour, which dates to before 1900, is one of Josephine Bonaparte’s roses.

There are over 70,000 named roses, which the center registers worldwide. Bissell says roses are patented by breeders.

Christmas in Roseland will be in its 41st year. Other events include an Easter egg hunt and the International Rose and Wine Festival, which attracted 3,000 people on April 14.

Rental spaces are available for conventions, showers, book signings and school events. A convention in 2023 had visitors from as far as Belgium.

Peggy Martin roses are a perfect choice at the Rose Center for climbing a pillar.


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