There’s no better time than now to stop and smell the flowers in the Stanley Park Rose Garden .
For the next few weeks, into July, the roses are hitting their peak. Many are so pungent you can smell clouds of scent just by walking by the garden on Pipeline Road next to the park entrance.
But you get the best, most concentrated scents by getting personal and sticking your nose into a flower. If you do, make sure you respect the roses by smelling from the edge of the beds.
Pink Beverly roses are just beginning to bloom. Each flower has an amazingly full-bodied citrusy fragrance. Nearby on the north side of the upper garden is the super pink rose called Sweet Fragrance that more than lives up to its name.
Julia Child is one of the varieties in both the upper and lower sections. Named after the American chef, the yellow rose has an unforgettable anise scent that smells good enough to eat.
Roses tend to be more fragrant in the morning, says one rose expert, when the oils in their petals are the most aromatic.
This year, the rose garden celebrates a milestone: it’s 100 years since the first roses bloomed in an official garden in Stanley Park.
The rose garden is one of the park’s popular attractions said Janice Bishop, superintendent of horticulture and destination parks for the Vancouver park board. She described it as a destination in its own right that people seek out in the park.
“When (people) see a rose, they’re drawn to it,” she said.
“The first thing they do is lean down to smell it. We want to reward everybody and make sure they have a great experience and have a fragrant rose to smell.”
Bishop says the two levels of rose garden have about 60 beds with an estimated 3,500 roses planted on a slope facing west.
The rose garden was started in 1920 with a $3,600 donation from the Kiwanis Club, an international men’s service club. Known originally as the Kiwanis Rose Garden, it was intended to “demonstrate the possibilities of rose culture in Vancouver.” The idea was to turn the city into a centre of roses on the west coast to rival Portland, Oregon.
The upper garden hasn’t changed much from its original formal geometric and axial design of rose beds around a central bed, according to National Historic Sites of Canada .
The lower garden was added when the former city nursery moved to East Vancouver. The Pioneers’ Association was responsible for the arbour and its climbing roses in 1993.
The first roses planted a century ago would have been much different than the ones in the garden today. They were much fussier and required endless spraying and gardening. Contemporary rose varieties are hardier and chosen to grow best in our temperate climate, said Brad Jalbert, the founder, owner and hybridizer at Select Roses in Langley.
Earlier this century, after the park board moved to integrated pest management, a more ecological approach to controlling pests and diseases, plants were no longer sprayed with insecticides and pesticides. As a result, the rose garden fell into decline.
The main problem was the older varieties of roses which needed protection against diseases such as black spot and mildew hadn’t been replaced with hardier varieties.
Jalbert worked with former park board gardener Rick Harrison to bring back the rose garden to its former glory. Every year, they were allocated a budget to replace several beds and replace old style roses with healthier contemporary varieties.
“There are always some people want who hate roses because they associate them with diseases,” he said. “It’s just that people haven’t been acquainted with roses of 2020.”
The goal was to replace the old style roses in the garden with new colourful and fragrant cultivars. They also choose a range of shapes and sizes of flowers including pollinator-friendly roses and long-stem cutting roses.
“The garden has roses that win awards all around the world,” he said.
Roses are fertilized three times a year with organic fertilizer and deadheaded — the spent flowers removed. If necessary, they’re treated with non-toxic insecticidal soap for aphids.
Jalbert said as a public rose garden in Metro Vancouver, there is nothing to compare to the Stanley Park Rose Garden.
“For the quantity and variety and selection, it’s the best,” Jalbert said.
Plus, the rose garden is in a unique setting by Stanley Park’s urban forest.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he said. “I have seen rose gardens all over the world and I think they have one of the prettiest settings”
He said the arbour is particularly spectacular when it’s covered in blooming roses.
“Whenever a public garden goes in anywhere in the world, the most visited part is the rose garden,” he said. “That’s where the public wants to go.”