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Tuesdays with Roses in the Fens

Posted by Sara Brown  September 1, 2011 04:12 PM

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(Sara Brown for

Fenway resident Joe Bergeron tends to roses at the Kelleher Rose Garden. He is one of the volunteers who regularly tends the garden.

After a car accident crushed his leg a few years ago, it took Joe Bergeron a year to be able to walk from his Fenway apartment to the Kelleher Rose Garden. Often, he said, he would have to stop to rest every few blocks.

But during his recovery, he would make it to the rose garden every day, he said, to enjoy the blooming roses. He would also notice groups of volunteers coming weekly to take care of the nearly 1,500 plants that populate the garden.

"I thought, when I got better, I'd come over and help out," he said on a recent Tuesday, sitting on a stool as he raked weeds from the garden's flower beds.

Bergeron is one of about 1,000 volunteers who come out every summer to take care of this rose garden, an oasis nestled in the middle of the Back Bay Fens. Volunteers help maintain the flowers in the garden that landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff planned in the 1930s.

In the 1980s, the garden fell into disrepair, said Catherine Pedemonti, the garden's project manager. The Emerald Necklace Conservancy and the Boston Parks and Recreation Department teamed up to create a master plan for restoring the garden with new turf and a new irrigation system, soil rejuvenation, and new signs.

And every week, volunteers come to Tuesdays with Roses, where first-time gardeners and regulars alike remove dead buds from the plants (a process called dead-heading) and weed the flower beds, gaining garden skills along with an appreciation for -- and some said, an awareness of -- the garden.

"I didn't even realize it was here," Back Bay resident Aline Rodrigues said of the garden as she maintained a Chihuly rose.

Rodrigues was one of the volunteers who to the garden Tuesday with the volunteer group Boston Cares. "It's summer," she said. "It's not like I have my own yard...It's kind of nice to just get out."

"So you are going to need pruners and a pair of gloves," Pedemonti told new volunteers. Groups also grabbed large paper bags for the discarded greenery, which will later be composted.

Then it was time for Rose Care 101, as Pedemonti demonstrated how to properly cut a dead bloom off a plant, focusing on where to cut and how to cut (at a 45 degree angle, to avoid fungus). Deadheading the roses spares the plant from expending energy to remove the dead bloom itself through natural processes.

After a demonstration, Pedemonti called for volunteers to demonstrate the technique. Afterward, the new gardeners, armed with pruners, spread out around the garden, looking for plants in need of some TLC.

South End resident Ron Peracchio and Eric Santamaria of Cambridge came to the garden Tuesday with a group of volunteers from Gay for Good.

"It's a perfect day," said Peracchio as the two worked in the florabunda rose section.

"I never knew it was here," said Santamaria.

Volunteers have varying degrees of gardening experience. Peracchio said he?s never gardened before and joked that he has a black thumb. Santamaria said that with the instruction session and attention to detail, the gardening was not difficult.

However, Peracchio said he would likely be a fair-weather gardener, coming back in nice weather, but "not in the dead of winter.?

Others are Tuesday with Roses regulars. Chris Dunham, who lives in the Fenway area, said she comes to the garden frequently to take photographs of the roses, putting the pictures on cards to give to friends.

"I like seeing some of my favorite roses," she said. "Deadheading encourages them to put out more of the beautiful roses...I don?t want to see them give up too early in the season."

She talked about some of her favorites, like Mr. Lincoln, a fragrant red rose.

While volunteers are important to care for the nearly 200 plant species, she credited full-time gardener Winfield Clark with taking care of the plants.

"We're sort of icing on the cake," she said. "We jump in, because it is an impossible task."

The flowers bloom "much longer than you'd expect," she said, with some of them blooming into November. Around Thanksgiving, volunteers help "put the garden to bed" for the winter, she said, heaping compost around the plants to protect them during the winter.

And in the spring, the process is reversed when it comes time to "wake the garden up."

While the garden occasionally has non-human visitors--Pedemonti said she once saw a snapping turtle, and sometimes sees rabbits--it is rarely damaged by visitors of any species.

Pedemonti said she's never seen visitors picking roses. Though "it must" happen, she said, "not enough so you notice. People are pretty respectful of the garden.?

Pedemonti said the majority of the volunteers are repeat visitors who gain a feeling of stewardship and ownership of the garden--as well as knowledge about how to care for roses.

Bergeron, now recovering from his accident and a regular volunteer, is one ambassador for the garden--he says he's talked to visitors from France and Brazil, and he can talk at length about the types of roses in the garden, including his favorite, a variety called "Oranges and Lemons."

"It was the last blooming rose in the garden the year I was here," he said, referring to his injury.

He can also talk about other virtues of the spot, like the proximity to the Museum of Fine Arts, just across a stretch of the Fens, and how the garden is a great location for a picnic and some music when there is a concert at Fenway Park.

"I spent a lot of time in this garden," he said of the spot he calls his neighborhood garden.

"People do a good job of taking care of the garden," he said, "and it's a joy for everyone."

Sara Brown can be reached at Your Town: Fenway-Kenmore on Twitter: @FenwayKenmore.

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