Sustainable Cities Collective has re-launched as Smart Cities Dive! Click here to learn more!

Volunteers Bring a Garden Back to Bloom

Garden Volunteers

Each month, City Parks Alliance names one "Frontline Park" as a standout example of urban park excellence, innovation and stewardship from across the country. The program identifies city parks that find innovative ways to meet the unique challenges faced as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures and urban neighborhood decay. In recognition of its unique approach to partnerships and volunteer engagement, San Jose Municipal Rose Garden in San Jose, CA has been named a Frontline Park.

"To have the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden selected as a Frontline Park by the City Parks Alliance is a great honor for the City, and countless volunteers," said Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio.  "This model of community partnership can be adopted by other cities to leverage their resources as a benefit for all."

"We selected San Jose Municipal Rose Garden as a Frontline Park because it exemplifies the power of urban parks to build community and make our cities sustainable and vibrant," said Catherine Nagel, Executive Director, City Parks Alliance. "We hope that by shining the spotlight on San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, we can raise awareness about the ways investment in our nation's urban parks pays off."

Inspired by the "City Beautiful" movement, famed architect John McLaren (designer of Golden Gate Park) volunteered to design the garden, which opened to great fanfare in 1937. The garden's 3,500 bushes drew rose enthusiasts and dignitaries from across the country. For 70 years, the park was a popular local destination. In 2003, declining tax revenues forced the city to cut park maintenance services throughout San Jose, which severely impacted the Historic Rose Garden. Within three years, weeds had overtaken the bushes. As the park's appearance declined, visitation dropped and the All-America Rose Selections, the national organization that accredits rose gardens, was close to stripping the garden of its accreditation. Even though the city could not maintain its parks, city and union rules prohibited volunteers from helping with maintenance.

In 2007, newly-elected City Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio began working to change the rules around volunteers in city parks. He encouraged neighborhood leaders to form the Friends of the San Jose Rose Garden, a nonprofit that would provide horticultural expertise and work with the city's Parks Department to train and organize volunteers. After the policy change, hundreds of volunteers gathered and started working to restore the Rose Garden. Within two years, the Rose Garden looked better than it ever had, so the group switched focus to high-level maintenance and education, and organized volunteer days and rose-care seminars. Not only did the garden avoid being stripped of accreditation, it beat out 130 other gardens to be named "America's Best Rose Garden" by the AARS, and was recently inducted into the International Rose Garden Hall of Fame.

San Jose Municipal Rose Garden will be featured on the City Parks Alliance website for the month of April.

The Frontline Parks program is made possible with generous support from DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.

Photo Credit: Volunteers and Gardening/shutterstock