This article is reprinted from the July 29, 1970 issue of the Great Lander Shopping News.
by Philip M. Gardner
That particular evening in early June was cool. A damp breeze blew in from Cook Inlet towards the spectators gathered facing the speakers’ platform. The sun appeared from behind a bank of clouds to the west and now warmed the air. Shortly afterwards, following brief introductions of guests and notables, the Mayor of Anchorage, Alaska arose and greeted the assembly.
This quiet ceremony inaugurated the formal opening of the Centennial Rose Garden, the northernmost municipal rose garden on the North American Continent in the spring of 1967, the year of the Alaska Purchase Centennial.
The writer of this article, then the chairman of the Centennial Rose committee, had been requested earlier that winter to submit design and plans for a rose garden after he had suggested this to the City Horticulturist. Subsequently, after justification was presented personally before the City Board of Parks and Recreation, the plans were approved. The site chosen was on the west portion of the City Park Strip from where Cook Inlet, and beyond, the mighty Alaska Range could be seen.
That spring, approximately 200 roses were potted, including the Grandiflora ‘Alaska Centennial’ of Dr. Dennison Morey that he generously donated. These containers were held in the city greenhouse until when, in early June, the garden was ready to receive the plants. The garden, 85 by 110 feet long, is oriented with the entrances at the cardinal points of the compass. Paths leading to a centrally placed fountain indicate a pattern that resembles the classic formal garden arranged to display flower masses from any direction. An Italian marble fountain sporting a water sprite was donated by public spirited local industrialists. Later in the fall, a not so public spirited vandal caused the sprite to suffer a broken arm. It now has been repaired and blithely lords it over the garden while meditating upon the mountain rimmed valley of Greater Anchorage.
The rose ‘Alaska Centennial’ is featured in beds close to the center of the garden and is flanked by beds of Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras, and Floribundas arranged into the design of the garden. Around the perimeter is a hedge composed of Rugosa species and its hybrids.
These Rugosa hybrids were seedlings developed by Don Irwin, the now retired first manager of the Matanuska Experimental Station. They were transplanted from his home in Palmer. It is said that the original Rugosa species from which these bushes were hybridized were those sent to the Matanuska Station from the Sitka Experimental Station in the early 1900’s, and consequently known as the ‘Sitka Rose,’ the synonym for the extra hardy Rugosa here in Alaska.
The container grown bushes are set out about the first of June as previously mentioned, and before the first hard frost in the fall, are lifted for storage in the city greenhouse storage cold room. This arrangement appears to be agreeable to the roses because each summer is rewarded with a wealth of blooms that are just a little larger and with a little deeper color than described in Modern Roses. The fertilizer applied is MagAmp (W. R. Grace Co.) applied once in the spring. Diazinon (Geiger Chemical Corp.) and Acti-dione PM (Upjohn) are used as protection against insects and mildew, respectively. The plentiful birches in and around Anchorage, host myriads of aphids, and these become a constant threat to the rose throughout the season. The incidence of rust and blackspot is minimal.
Anchorage, now a metropolis of 121,000 people is rapidly spreading into the surrounding foothills and yet even higher, as attested by the homey lights in the dusk, pinpointed up into the neighboring Chugach Mountains.
The climate in this portion of south central Alaska, at 61° latitude, might be equated with that of Moscow (56° latitude), although the mean temperature of the Moscow summer is a little warmer due to the peculiarities of an interior region. The mean summer temperature for the Anchorage area is about 57°F. and in the winter 21°F., with an all-time low of 38°F. below zero. Anchorage is as far west as Honolulu and as far north as Helsinki. Then there are the cool summer rains in late July and August that increase the incidence of mildew in the gardens; but the other times, when the day stretches the sunshine to over 19 hours, make this bearable.
1967 was a great year for the rose in Alaska. Apart from the fact that this was also the centennial year of the first Hybrid Tea ‘LaFrance,’ another great rose, a scarlet Grandiflora hybridized by Dr. Dennison Morey of General Bionomics, named ‘Alaska Centennial’ was christened. There also was organized that fall, the thriving Alaska Rose Society, now well into its second year with a successful rose show to its credit, a monthly bulletin, and furthermore, with hopes to host a Northwest Regional Convention in the not so distant future.
The public gardens of Anchorage are greatly admired by visitors and tourists from everywhere. The International Airport is a crossroads between the States, Europe and Asia. They generally do not expect the abundance of flowers seen throughout the city during the summer season. An interesting floral display that is changed yearly is located on a side hill near one of the thoroughfares leading out of Anchorage to Spenard, a suburb. During the Centennial Year, the official design was laid out in a field of blue and gold that covered the 50 by 50 foot area. The City Horticulturalist, Mann Leiser, assures us that this year’s design will be either an Alaska flag or a map of the state.
Apart from being an all-American city for two years, a singular honor has been recently realized in that the National Gold Medal Awards Program, sponsored by Sports Foundation, Inc., has chosen the Park and Recreational Department to be placed in the top 5 within its population size category. This contest is held among cities from coast to coast with the winners yet to be decided upon at the time this is being written. This forward trend demonstrates the pride that the venturesome people of this city take in municipal beautification. This pride has made Anchorage the Garden City of the North.
Philip Gardner is the founder and designer of the Centennial Rose Garden. Gardner is also the founder and past president of the Alaska Rose Society, originally organized in 1967.
The Centennial Rose Garden was inaugurated as the northernmost municipal rose garden on the North American Continent in the spring of 1967, the year of the Alaska Purchase Centennial.