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Bad news about Sacramento’s beloved Historic Rose Garden

Famous collection may soon be, well, history

City cemetery
Here's how the Historic City Cemetery looked in June, with all the arbors removed and most of the rose bushes cut down. (Photos courtesy Preserve The Cemetery's Beauty)

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, the City of Sacramento’s Preservation Commission will review a 36-page report and recommendations for a five-year preservation plan for the Historic City Cemetery.

That plan recommends the removal of most of the ornamental plants in the cemetery, including the dissolution of the 2-acre rose collection as a “garden.”

To be held via Zoom, the meeting will include public comments via a call-in line. That phone number is expected to be posted Wednesday afternoon, shortly before the meeting.

For decades, the cemetery has been home to three major garden collections devoted to heritage and antique roses, perennials and California native plants. All three gardens are at risk.

Longtime volunteers for the cemetery gardens are deeply concerned.

“We have treated the cemetery with the utmost love and respect,” said Anita Clevenger, who served for many years as the rose garden’s curator. “The report rejects all previous plans, and the listing of the cemetery on the Federal Register, by stating that the modern gardens have no standing as historic features and that the emphasis for the cemetery must be preservation of historic hardscape and landscaping.

“Recommendations are to remove ‘non-historic’ vegetation (prior to 1962 or thereabouts) and replace turf with decomposed granite and plants in plots with mulch,” Clevenger added. “What a barren prospect.”

A Facebook page, Preserve the Cemetery's Beauty, has kept track of changes in the garden and provides links to reports. (Find it at )

City cemetery, another view
Another view of the cemetery, after removal of all
the arbors and trellises.

Attracting rose lovers worldwide, the cemetery rose garden had been internationally recognized as one of the best collections anywhere of rare and antique roses, many not found in any other public space. In 2011, the cemetery garden was among the original inductees into the Great Rosarians of the World international hall of fame as a “living library of rare roses.”

But roses in the cemetery have been a prickly issue since 2016. That’s when the City first issued recommendations that called for the removal of all decorative arches, arbors, trellises, tripods and other metalwork as well as any plants growing in plots or within 1 foot of monuments.

The goal of those changes is to better preserve the stone monuments and restore the cemetery to an earlier historic period, according to city reports and staff.

When those changes were first proposed, the all-volunteer Heritage Rose Group stirred up a fuss that gained national attention. They packed Sacramento’s Council Chambers during hearings and pressed the City Council to save the roses. Initially sparing the roses, the city formed a task force, and a series of studies and reports followed.

Earlier this year, Tom Liggett – a rose expert who worked with the City of San Jose on its historical rose garden – was brought in as a special consultant to the City Cemetery.

Then, the pandemic hit. The cemetery’s major garden event in April was canceled and volunteers were discouraged from working in the cemetery gardens. All 2020 tours were canceled including the cemetery’s popular pre-Halloween Lantern Tours.

Working with city staff and on his own, Liggett chopped down to the ground huge climbers and tree-size bushes. He continued severe pruning through the summer heat, considered the worst time to prune roses. Many roses disappeared along with all 30-plus arbors and arches. Some roses were eliminated from the garden’s 500-plus collection.

Also disappeared: The Historic Rose Garden’s sign and most of the plant identification tags.

According to the city report, “The goal of this work is to meet preservation standards and have all staff and volunteers working towards a shared goal of maintaining these historic cemetery grounds.”

In its report, city staff contended that the rose garden, established in 1992, and its volunteers never had official permission and that the garden was not appropriate for its historical setting.

“Extensive research by staff and consultants have found (that) gardens overlaid on individual plots was not part of the original Cemetery design,” the report states. “Individual plots were the central building block in the Victorian garden cemetery, focusing on the individual interred, not on a collection of plants making up a garden. … Individual plots were never meant to be grouped together to reflect a collection of plants as a ‘garden.’ ”

What will the future Historic City Cemetery look like? With these recommendations, a lot less rosy.

Read the full report:


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For week of Dec. 3:

Make the most of gaps between raindrops. This is a busy month!

* Windy conditions brought down a lot of leaves. Make sure to rake them away from storm drains.

* Use those leaves as mulch around frost-tender shrubs and new transplants.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they're dormant.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Plant one last round of spring bulbs including daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and scillas. Get those tulips out of the refrigerator and into the ground.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers such as California poppies.

* Plant such spring bloomers as sweet pea, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Late fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development before spring growth. They also benefit from fall and winter rains.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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