McKinley Park Rose Garden a cherished community landmark
Although not as old as the park itself, the renowned rose garden at McKinley Park has a very rich history.
The roots of the McKinley Park that people know today date back to 1871, when the park opened as the privately-owned East Park – a name given to it for its location in the then-undeveloped area, just east of city limits.
East Park, which was purchased by the city in 1902, was renamed in honor of President William McKinley, who was assassinated on Sept. 14, 1901.
The park has undergone a wide variety of transitions during its history, including the initial development of the current garden site in the spring of 1928.
The idea of establishing beds of flowers in the park was presented as early as 1906 by Mrs. J. Henry Miller, who was known as “the mother of McKinley Park.”
According to an article in The Sacramento Union, Miller, who raised private funds and managed the park from 1902 to 1908, proposed such a floral site in February 1906, in order to assist in making the park a beautiful site that the people of Sacramento would be proud to call their own.
Around this time, the park had a much different appearance, as is indicative by a 1908 report presented to the city by Charles Mulford Robinson, a nationally-renowned city planner.
In the report, Robinson described the park as “very incompletely and poorly developed.”
The park, however, experienced many improvements in a short period of time, leading to a circa 1914 city guide to celebrate the site as a “delightfully refreshing and attractive spot” with such amenities as a clubhouse, a “pretty lake with boats,” tennis courts and a baseball and football field.
By early 1929, under the direction of Frederick N. Evans, the city’s first parks superintendent, work began on improvements to the garden.
The project, which was noted by The Sacramento Bee in January 1929 to be part of Evans’ drive to “make the garden a showplace of the city park system,” included adding to the gardens’ rose bush collection and the labeling of plants in English and Latin for the benefit of the park’s visitors.
In November 1929, The Bee reported that Evans announced that a complete revision of the park’s garden would be made.
Prior to this time, the garden, which then included an under construction pool at its center, had been established with no particular planting plans.
Evans, however, presented a plan to have the garden rearranged into definite patterns.
Additionally, all rose varieties would be labeled, rose arches around the garden’s edges would be placed in order and the pool would be completed and would include goldfish and aquatic plants.
The Bee reported that it was Evans’ intention to have the garden created as an educational garden “where Sacramentans interested in flowers and plants may come and study their culture.”
On Dec. 13, 1946, the garden was named after Evans, who was also an original member of the Sacramento Rose Society. The society was founded on June 27, 1940.
The society, which meets on the second Thursday of each month, with the exception of July and August, at the park’s Shepard Garden and Arts Center at 7:30 p.m., has for many years assisted the garden by providing winter-pruning of its roses.
Adena Kalal, a past president of the Sacramento Rose Society, said that the society has been very dedicated to the garden through other activities such as donating roses and giving additional care and advice regarding the roses.
“(The society) has had a very good relationship with the garden,” said Kalal, who joined the society about 25 years ago.
The well-known garden, which grew from its initial 400 rose plants to about 944 rose plants in 1940 to more than 1,200 rose plants today, is a popular site for daily visitors and weddings. The McKinley Park Rose Garden is one of only 130 All-American Rose Selection display gardens.
Kalal said that throughout the years, the garden has survived through the efforts of park superintendents and many volunteers, as well as more recent work performed by Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department work release crews.
“The parks superintendents have always tried to do their best,” Kalal said. “They have been restricted money-wise from doing things and sometimes it has been really difficult for them to do what they would really like to do, because there either wasn’t money or manpower. I don’t really fault the staff for the condition (of the garden). But like any other garden, it does need to be improved and upgraded from time to time and I think that’s where the garden stands at this point.”
Sacramento Rose Society volunteers, led by society member Ellie Longanecker, founded the Friends of McKinley Park Rose Garden non-profit organization. The purpose of the organization is to assist attempts to upgrade the popular, 1.5-acre garden.
An informational Friends’ handout describes the garden as needing volunteers for planting, pruning and feeding, a new irrigation system and Americans with Disabilities Act updates.
Kent Duncan, the society’s president, said that the city has committed to funding both the irrigation system and the ADA-compliant upgrades to the garden’s walkways by 2012.
“About eight months ago, the city committed to making these improvements and we are excited about this commitment, because without these upgrades the garden will never reach the potential that it has,” Duncan said.
In the meantime, however, more volunteers are being sought for watering, weeding and deadheading in the garden. Deadheading is the simple process of trimming the spent blossoms, which encourages new blooms.
From now through late October, the rose garden needs deadheading on a regular basis.
Watering by volunteers at the garden includes hand-watering some of the newer roses that have a greater water requirement until their roots expand and hand-watering some of the areas, where the old irrigation system is broken.
Loganecker, who resides in Carmichael, said that there are various benefits to volunteering at the park’s rose garden.
“Volunteers are needed and appreciated,” Longanecker said. “Not only can you sharpen your gardening skills, but you can feel really good about working in such a beautiful park and contributing to make Sacramento a more beautiful community.”
Longanecker added that she is very appreciative of the many people who have assisted the garden in its recent years.
These people, Longanecker said, include Duncan, Jason Davis, Barbara Lane-Piert, Joanna Boettcher, Charlotte Owendyk, Linda Knowles and Park Supervisor Tiger Badhan from the Sacramento Rose Society, and volunteers of the Friends of McKinley Park Rose Garden for their continued support in volunteering to care for the rose garden.
Longanecker said that she also appreciates the contributions of about 400 new roses by Star Roses, Weeks Roses and members of the Sacramento Rose Society.
The Sacramento Rose Society also contributed to the garden by donating all of its 2009 fundraising revenue for the purchase of roses, fertilizer and materials.
Those who are interested in assisting with the current volunteering efforts at the park or are interested in providing monetary donations to upgrade this longtime popular, local garden and to help make it a “world-class rose garden,” can call Jason Davis at (916) 721-0377 or Kent Duncan at (916) 408-3455 or visit www.sactorose.org or www.facebook.com (Friends of McKinley Park Rose Garden page).