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Despite heat, 'Rose Brigade' continues to care for the Public Garden's roses

Posted by Patrick Rosso  June 26, 2013 12:56 PM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/

In Video: A look at the volunteers behind the Public Garden's Rose Brigade.

Under the summer’s sweltering sun, a few dedicated souls armed with gardening gloves and clippers are pruning and caring for the roses in the Boston Public Garden.

Part of the all-volunteer "Rose Brigade," which was founded in 1988 by China Altman, members are tasked with the health of the approximate 280 rose plants in the Public Garden.

Now 26 summers later, the group and the roses are still going strong.

“The roses beds were showing a bit of stress because of cuts to the budget and staff,” explained Altman, a Boston resident, former journalist, and leader of the group. “There was just not enough staff to give the roses the almost constant care they needed.”

Bringing together a group of like-minded individuals, Altman quietly launched the brigade to take the burden off the park’s staff and help preserve the beauty of the Public Garden’s rose beds.

From mid-March to early-December, the 30-plus members of the brigade cover every aspect of the roses’ care.

“I love it,” said Altman. “The roses kind of caught me; they fascinated me and they still do after all these years.”

The Public Garden has four beds named after their respective location in the park: the Ether Bed, the Mr. Hale Bed, the Tiffany Bed, and the Mr. Lincoln Bed.

On Tuesday, the few volunteers who could stand the heat were in the Ether Bed pruning the bushes, clearing dead petals, and chatting with those who passed by and glanced at the array of colorful flowers.

“I come here whenever I’m stressed,” explained Sun Jin Jung, a Newton resident who has been volunteering with the Rose Brigade for the past two years.

An attorney who first visited the Public Gardens as a student, Jung met Altman couple of years back as she admired the roses one sunny day. Now Jung is one of Altman’s best volunteers and considers the beds a sanctuary of sorts.

“We have a very good team of volunteers, but most of all I love the roses and I love the Public Garden,” said Jung.

Working side-by-side Tuesday afternoon, Jung and Altman delicately cared for the flowers. The park boasts three kinds of rose: the Hybrid Tea, the Floribunda, and the David Austin Rose.

“Whenever you want to approach roses you have to be guarded, you have to protect yourself,” Jung said. “There are thorns and it’s very difficult to take care of them, but when I get home I feel it’s worth it. I don’t know why, but I feel that is the mystery and beauty of the roses.”

Although much of the concentration is on the care of the roses, Altman, when not instructing volunteers, acts as an ambassador to the gardens. Chatting with tourists and commuters, many of whom she is on a first name basis with, Altman seeks to open up the garden and flora to the rest of Boston.

“I hope their hearts are lifted when they see the roses,” said Altman. “I hope life just becomes a little bit more than ordinary when they see them.”

Email Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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