When spring finally came, the rose bushes burst into life, rising day by day toward the sun.
Their leaves grew a deep, glossy green, and their buds swelled. China Altman and the rest of the Rose Brigade, a volunteer group that cares for the rose beds at Boston’s Public Garden, brimmed with anticipation and counted the days until the spring bloom.
It was well worth the wait. This month has brought a sublime array of blossoms to the famed park, radiant clusters of magenta and apricot, soft orange and dark red. A decade after a devastating winter destroyed two-thirds of the bushes, the Garden roses are enjoying their most beautiful bloom yet, gardeners say, a dazzling display that defies easy description.
“I’m a word person, but the roses this year made me speechless,” Altman said on a recent day, surveying the quiet, lovely scene. “It’s hard to convey the sense of wonder. My God, just look at this.”
For Altman and other volunteers who spend long hours tending to the four rose beds, the bloom was deeply rewarding. Since the terrible winter of 2002-2003, which buried the rose beds in a dense layer of ice, volunteers have coaxed the gardens back to full health, season by season. This spring, a full complement of 300 bushes bloomed by the thousands.
“This is a renaissance,” said Altman, who cofounded the Rose Brigade in the late 1980s. “They need a kind of persistence that takes a lot of time. But we love it.”
Many others share her affection, pausing on their way through the Public Garden or making it a destination. Two of the beds are prominently displayed near the Charles Street entrance; the other two are across the bridge, near Arlington Street.
‘I’m a word person, but the roses this year made me speechless.’
Sarah Gates, a regular visitor from Brookline, said this year’s roses are a rare treat.
“They’ve just been wonderful,” she said. “I stop every time.”
Gates grew up in Ohio, where her father tended to a large garden that featured antique roses from California. They were her favorite, and she has loved roses ever since.
“I guess I inherited it,” she said.
As Gates spoke with Altman, tourists snapped pictures of the rose bushes, and couples paused to enjoy the sight. When volunteers gather to tend to the beds, dozens of people thank them as they pass by, Altman said.
Paul Jodhan, a city gardener who helps the volunteers, said the abundant bloom has stopped many people in their tracks.
“It’s amazing,” he said. Jodhan said regular upkeep has helped keep the bushes healthy and a snowy winter kept the soil moist.
In December, volunteers cut back the bushes, then gird them for the winter with mounds of soil and compost. When they are confident cold weather is truly gone for the season, they remove the protective soil, then watch in amazement as the roses take off.
Volunteers have regularly planted young bushes during the past decade, and while not all thrive, many have become bigger and more beautiful over time.
“You want them to grow old,” Altman said.
The garden offers a wide variety of roses, with names meant to describe their beauty. A pink rose is called Touch of Class, a cream and yellow rose is known as Peace.
Altman shies away from choosing a favorite, but pauses before a rich burgundy rose bush called a Tradescant. She has watched this flower closely and marveled at how it changes colors as it blooms.
“That color is indescribable,” she said.
Nearby, another bush has grown slowly, even after several years. But the Rose Brigade is patient; the payoff will come.
“That’s OK,” Altman said. “We’ll give it time.”