Invest surplus funds in a proven draw: Thornden Park’s rose garden (Your Letters)

To the Editor:

The Syracuse Rose Society (SRS) ( Executive Board has taken note of the many community submissions regarding how to use a $100 million to $200 million county budget surplus (”We asked how you would spend Onondaga County’s $100M surplus. You had a ton of ideas,” July 13, 2022). The suggestion of a botanical garden is intriguing and would beautify the city, and an aquarium would be fun and educational to visit for those who can afford to go there. Neither will be tourism draws for years. The SRS would like to point out that the E.M. Mills Rose Garden in Thornden Park is ranked by the American Rose Society as second-best garden in the nation. Visitors come to see the rose garden from all over the country. When the Syracuse Parks Department and a full slate of volunteers work together, Rose Day in June is spectacular. Unfortunately, if you go to the garden now, you will wonder: “What happened?”

“What happened” is that we had a warm fall so the roses did not go dormant, and January was the fifth-coldest on record, so we lost over 200 roses and counting. We received only half of the roses that were ordered for planting and need to wait until spring 2023 for a new supply. The lawn was not mowed until late in May so grass seeded into the beds. We have had little rainfall. Last week our volunteers spent 32 person hours watering, which is 32 hours which could not be spent weeding or doing actual rose care. Bindweed has invaded many of the beds and will continue to spread, as the roots go many feet deep.

The E.M. Mills Garden would benefit from surplus county funds or the city of Syracuse’s American Rescue Plan money by hiring seasonal staff to assist the rosarians from SRS in managing the rose beds and properly maintaining the lawn. A landscape architectural design consultant could look at the garden layout, design and implement a watering system and improve the existing raised beds, many which have broken timbers despite the use of every-other-year Greening Grants for timber replacement. Other infrastructure maintenance, including safer walking paths and step entries, is overdue. The grassy space across Thornden Park Drive would be perfect for a picnic pavilion.

Committing funds and manpower to plant over 100 roses in the spring 2023 will help fill those now empty beds. The SRS consulting rosarians and Mills Garden Committee are carefully selecting roses which are suitable for our planting region, disease resistant, fragrant and beautiful. It would be wonderful if our immediate neighbors the Thornden Park Association, Syracuse University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and others joined us in developing a strategic plan for the rose garden. The next generation of rosarians are taking classes right now in landscape design, sustainability, and property management. Perhaps the greenhouses at SU, ESF, and Syracuse Parks Dept could be used for growing roses, and researching rose care.

We hope that local leadership will allocate surplus funds so that the entire community can benefit. We will be doing our part to ensure that in 2024, the 100th year anniversary of the garden, E.M. Mills Rose Garden will rank No. 1 in the nation.

Sonia Y. Kragh, treasurer

On behalf of the Executive Board

Syracuse Rose Society


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