Who The Heck Cares Whether You Save A Rose?


“Who the heck cares whether you save a rose?” The words of the late Barbara Oliva, rosarian and a former curator at Sacramento’s Historic Rose Garden have resonated in my mind this week as I read the news of the City of Sacramento’s plans to remove and or attempt to relocate one of the world’s most prized collections of roses at its historic City Cemetery.

Sacramento Bee reporter Debbie Arrington first broke the story citing reports that due to a recent designation as a historic site, the cemetery would fall under new guidelines requiring the removal of arches and roses that touched monuments. Read the full story here.  Read her full story


This story has sent shock waves around the world as the news spread that this prized collection of roses was in peril at the hands of bureaucratic lawmakers in Sacramento who have probably never even bothered to visit this magnificent resting place for those helped settle their town. We implore them to spend some time with the roses before making decisions.

Attempts to reach council members and the mayor’s office as well as call to the National Park Service office yielded a statement sent by Judy Ulich, Director of Convention and Cultural Services for the City of Sacramento on behalf of City Manager John Shirey – City Manager – City of Sacramento California,  It says in part:


John Shirey, City Manager. City of Sacramento – Photo Credit: CBSLocal.com

“The rose garden was established in 1992 and is made up of a collection of historic roses of the period. Ninety-eight percent of the current roses were planted in the 1990s. Two percent of the rose population is made up of the species from the Victorian era. At no time were there any recommendations to have the roses ripped out or killed off in any way. The roses have become a beautiful addition to the cemetery and are cherished for the beauty that they bring. The guidelines put together by the ad-hoc committee call for roses to be trimmed around the grave sites so that visitors can access and see the headstones. During the planning sessions, it was also recommended that the climbing roses and non-historic trellises be relocated to the stone fence that surrounds the cemetery.  The move of the trellises will take place in December.”

The comments above seem promising but are fraught with error. The statement says that many of the roses were planted in the 1990’s, and the statement that only two percent are old garden roses is inaccurate. This gives the impression that there are varieties easily obtainable in commerce today. The truth is that the roses planted during that time were from cuttings of antique roses obtained by caring volunteers from roses that have since disappeared from commerce or are very rare, many of which only live in this garden and in the hearts and minds of those who once grew them.

I do not believe the elected officials in the city of Sacramento know what a treasure it has in this garden, nor do they recognize the international significance of this collection of roses. As someone who has been growing roses virtually all my life, I can tell you that many of these old roses, especially of this size and stature growing on arches, would NOT survive if cut and moved to the stone fencing that surrounds the cemetery.


As an advocate for roses in this country, I know all too well the great disconnect that often exists between City Hall and parks employees. I implore Mr. Shirey, the City Council of the City of Sacramento, the National Park Service, the Volunteers who work tirelessly to help maintain and preserve this garden along side the city’s dedicated parks employees to work TOGETHER as a TEAM to save the beauty and allure of this garden, while maintaining a resplendent resting place for those who endured “many dangers, toils and snares” to bring the city of Sacramento to life and they deserve a resting place that befits their struggle. 

So, to answer Barbara’s question, “Who the heck cares whether you save a rose?” I do! And, she did and I know tens of thousands of rosarians around the world who care. A literal legion of people who care about the history and significance of the world’s most beloved flower and I ask that you voice your opinion to those in charge in Sacramento.

I am calling upon rose lovers from around the world to unite in this matter and to show their support for the rose and is preservation.

Please write to City Council members and the Mayor asking them to SAVE THE ROSES at all costs, even if it means turning down the NPS Historic Site designation.

Here is a list of their email addresses:


Please share this post, tell everyone you know that this is happening and to be vigilant in your own communities so that we don’t let another rare and endangered rose fall at the hands of an uninformed electorate.



About Chris VanCleave - America's Favorite Rose Gardener

Christopher R. VanCleave – America’s Favorite Rose Gardener Nicknamed "The Redneck Rosarian”, Chris VanCleave is passionate about gardening and growing roses. He is an active member of the Birmingham chapter of the American Rose Society, serving two terms as President. In 2007, he created the Rose Chat Podcast which has reached over a half a million listeners with news and information on growing on growing the world’s most beloved flower, the rose. He was a contributor to the 2015 Southern Living Gardening Book, has appeared on P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home television show and was featured in the June 2015 issue of Southern Living Magazine. Locally, Chris serves as Chairman of the Helena Alabama Beautification Board where he has spearheaded efforts to create a sustainable landscape in one of the top one hundred places to live in the United States. His writing is seen at About.com and on his popular website; RedneckRosarian.com, where he chronicles his gardening adventures and explores an intrinsic mix of life, faith and gardening. An agent of change with over 20 years’ experience in process innovation, Mr. VanCleave is leading the charge to reinvigorate horticultural societies and helping them to reach their full potential in the social media age.
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8 Responses to Who The Heck Cares Whether You Save A Rose?

  1. This beautiful rose garden has been on my bucket list since the first time I heard of it. I simply cannot imagine it’s not being there for the world to enjoy and as well as to learn from. Taken from the Chicago Botanic Garden website…” The allure of roses is a universal one — and certainly not restricted to gardeners alone! This queen of flowers has played a major role in poetry, religion, art, and literature; music, medicine, fashion design, perfume, and home decoration — even in cuisine.” Thoughtful care should always be taken with historic treasures … these masterpieces of the rose world are no exception.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Who The Heck Cares Whether You Save A Rose? | A...

  3. jennavive72 says:

    I care about roses! Wish I could see these in person, they are so beautiful! Thanks for sharing, and, I hope the roses win!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. soflrose says:

    This is FANTASTIC. I have been following this story on Facebook and have been wanting to do SOMETHING but couldn’t not figure out what on earth I can do to help. Now that you have published the emails of the council I will write to them AND post them on my blog as well as Garden Web to spread the word. Thank you so much. We must fight to keep the garden as is. They say to “move the roses” or “trim the roses” but that simply cannot happen. Like you said, many will not survive and those that are severely cut back may also not survive. These are Old Garden Roses, not hybrid teas that bounce back quickly when pruned back.
    And I am sorry, but people go to this cemetery to see the roses not the monuments or grave stones. The roses cascading gracefully over these structures is what gives this cemetery its charm, not the structures themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have learned from people within the preservation community that in fact, our registration as a National Historic District does not drive removal of the archways or any changes to the rose garden. I am baffled why the city used that as one of their rationales. They are coming up with other reasons such as preservation of cemetery features and public security and safety now that the preservation argument seems to have disappeared. I am hopeful that with council attention and a true public process, we can retain and improve the trellises and make the Historic Rose Garden better than ever. Anita Clevenger, Curator, Historic Rose Garden

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I have read the committee guidelines, which are written as directives, with most regard given to monuments and little respect was shown for the rose plants themselves. Fortunately, the city has backed off on the implementation of the committee’s orders. I have been in contact with Council-member Hansen’s office, and I have been assured that negotiations are underway to come up with a compromise. My experience with landmark cemetery issues and the National Register process seems to be seen as helpful. I will continue to stay in contact with the city and do what I can.

    Chris, you already know that I’m the manager of the historic rose collection at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, which has been listed on the National Register for decades. I also live in a historic home, and I initiated and completed the process of listing it on the National Register in 2005.

    This whole problem in Sacramento seems to stem from the mistaken idea that National Register designation comes with special rules that must be followed. The cemetery applied for listing on the Register, and it was most certainly approved because of its CURRENT historic nature. Lot owners in garden cemeteries (such as in Sacramento and at Hollywood Cemetery) were encouraged to beautify their lots with structures and plantings. By planting the current gardens, Sacramento cemetery volunteers are acting on behalf of family members, many of whom are no longer living or connected with their ancestors buried there.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I live close enough to visit for the day. I do hope the roses stay as they are. Thank everyone for the work on behalf of the roses.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Susann Grace says:

    One of Sacramento s finest history is in our
    Beloved cemetery.
    Don’t make those changes use the funds to provide a safe and friendly rose areas that are the most beautiful of any cemeteries I ve seen.
    Thank you so much for helping to the Roses
    Susann Grace

    Liked by 1 person

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