Balboa Park’s Rose Garden Corps keeps flowers in bloom year-round
By Monica Garske | SDUN Reporter
The lush Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden in Balboa Park is known for its award-winning roses. Behind every beautiful bloom, there is a dedicated volunteer rosarian cultivating, trimming and pruning, week in and week out.
The vibrant garden, located on Park Boulevard near the San Diego Natural History Museum, is maintained year-round by a group of dedicated volunteers known as the “Rose Garden Corps.”
At the helm of the Balboa bloom brigade is Dick Streeper, master rosarian and founder of the memorial garden. Streeper said he started the volunteer Rose Garden Corps several decades ago to satisfy his lifelong passion for rose gardening.
“I’ve been interested in roses for many decades. [My wife and I] moved to San Diego in 1962, and when be bought our house, we started planting roses in our own garden,” he said. “San Diego is one of the most favorable places to grow roses, so we thought everybody should enjoy roses in a larger, public space.”
Streeper said he eventually collaborated with the City of San Diego Parks Department to take over the Memorial Garden. The three-acre space needed plenty of care, he said, so he formed a volunteer group to actively tend to the roses throughout the year.
Today, Streeper said the Rose Garden Corps is comprised of roughly 60 volunteers, with a core group of 15 to 20 trained rosarians that donate their time every week.
The rose recruits work in the garden every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., doing just about everything under the horticultural sun.
“We cut, trim, prune and plant, if necessary,” Streeper said. “We make sure to keep the rose beds clean and put mulch down. The only thing we don’t do in the garden is spraying and irrigation work. The city takes care of that part.”
With approximately 2,400 rose bushes and more than 150 rose varieties in the garden, Streeper said the volunteer work is truly a labor of love. He estimates that a single rose requires about one full hour of labor per year.
“It’s all about dedication to each and every rose and attention to detail. All of our volunteers make a time commitment and really love this garden. We all take a possessive interest in it and consider it our own.”
Active volunteer Pam Cawthron has been part of the Rose Garden Corps for the past seven years and said the experience has been rewarding.
“When you walk away, you can instantly see that the garden looks better than it did before. Seeing improvements each week is great,” Cawthron said.
Besides trimming, weeding, fertilizing and raking, Cawthron’s weekly duties include assigning fellow volunteers to work certain rose beds. This way, she said, the volunteer shifts are organized and every inch of the garden is covered.
While every volunteer in the Rose Garden Corps has a passion for gardening, Cawthron said expert knowledge is not required.
Streeper leads short, educational classes on rose gardening once a month during growing season, which helps novice volunteers learn the ropes.
“We continually try to train our volunteers and keep everyone interested,” Cawthron said. “Often times we’ll pair new volunteers with veteran volunteers so they learn everything there is to learn.”
With the vast variety of roses in the garden, Cawthron said volunteers are bound to expand their knowledge of gardening. “All roses must be worked a little differently, so it’s definitely a learning experience,” she said, adding that patience, a willingness to get your hands dirty and, of course, time is really what it takes to join the Rose Garden Corps.
In July alone, she said, volunteers dedicated approximately 335 hours of work to the garden. But the pay-off is well worth it.
“We meet so many people. We enjoy talking with locals and tourists who visit the garden while we work,” Cawthron said. “It’s nice to feel like you’re helping the community. We’re creating a part of Balboa Park and that is really special.”
Those interested in volunteering with the Rose Garden Corps are asked to contact Mary Rose via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.