Tuesday With the Roses: At the Kelleher Rose Garden, It’s the Volunteers That Make It Bloom

Taking a stroll in the Fenway’s Kelleher Rose Garden is a special experience with dozens upon dozens of varieties of roses bursting in bloom seemingly all summer long.

It’s a special respite, and one that dazzles the sense of smell and sight.

But while most enjoy the Garden, it is a dedicated group of volunteers that help keep it at its tip-top beauty all summer long.

Once a week, and sponsored by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, a group of volunteers known as Tuesday with the Roses, gets together to weed the rose beds and conduct the all-important technique of “deadheading” the different varieties of roses. Deadheading is the special process of pruning a flowering plant to encourage it to keep blooming even outside of its normal peak.

On a recent Tuesday, about 12 volunteers from around the city showed up to spend Tuesday with the Roses. Some had been coming regularly for years and like the camaraderie, while others had only recently started coming for the mere fact that they adored roses.

Richard Stroshane, the volunteer leader for the group, said people volunteers really enjoy the activity once they learn the technique – and many continue to come back.

“It tends to be a very contemplative activity as people chat about things and meet new people,” he said. “At the same time they are doing something encouraging for others. It’s a wonderful and casual activity. There are no expectations…There’s also some judgment involved, which I think is appealing to people. It’s kind of like the reason why people in Japan are said to enjoy the mazes they have there. They love mazes because they get to figure it out. They get to decide. It’s not determined by an edict. With this you get to make some decisions on deadheading the plants. There’s also an aspect where you are using your technique to make the Garden beautiful and you know that people appreciate it. You may not be there or see them appreciate it, but you know as you’re doing it that happens.”

Joelle Boyle, Conservancy coordinator of Land Stewardship, said they are very happy to have the volunteers return this year for Tuesday with the Roses, as they weren’t allowed in during the 2020 pandemic. She said that along with “Eddie” from the Parks Department, the volunteers help keep the Garden looking like the showpiece that it is.

“There is more work here than one man can do, even someone as great as Eddie,” she said. “We really want to thank the volunteers. Volunteers know how much work goes into a garden like this. We are just now able to get our volunteers back. I’m excited to have volunteers back out doing this work…For a lot of volunteers, it’s a great way to get to know their neighbors, get their hands dirty and be stewards of the Emerald Necklace.”

Melanie Dennis has been volunteering with the roses for a number of years, and said Tuesdays are “a respite from busy urban life and having the fountain behind them is a pleasant background sound.”

John Gill, of the Fenway, said he got his start with the roses through community gardening.

“I come here to appreciate the roses and doing this gives me an even greater insight on how to appreciate them,” he said. “Maybe one day I’ll have a garden of my own and do this for myself. I got into this from community gardening – hearing about it from other people. When you learn from older people and more experienced people, you learn much more than you could ever take form a video or a book or a website. It’s also just satisfying to do.”

Part of the magic the volunteers work is knowing just the right technique to prune, or deadhead, the roses so they will continue to bloom through the warm months. Stroshane said it’s a process of going from plant to plant, amongst the hundreds of varieties, and finding parts of the plant that have died off, and taking off leaves at just the right spot.

“There is a special technique that has to be done to encourage roses to bloom,” he said, noting that without the volunteers, such hand-son painstaking care would probably not be done. “Normally they hit their peak in June and die, but if you trim them by deadheading, it coerces them into another round of blooming.”

And so it is that the magic of the Fenway roses continues to delight and dazzle residents, tourists and gardening gurus every summer. Anyone who would like to volunteer can inquire with Boyle by e-mailing [email protected]

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