The Karl Switzer Rose Circle at Deering Oaks in Portland has been around since the 1930s, serving as a way to beautify a neighborhood, and more recently as a display garden for All-America Rose Selections.

But beautiful as it is — and it was absolutely in peak bloom when I spent a half-hour there in mid-June — some concerns are rising that it isn’t getting enough use and about how to maintain it, especially as the city cuts its horticultural staff.

“It is at the point,” Portland arborist Jeff Tarling said, “where we have to look at it from a management perspective to see if it makes sense to keep putting money into carrying it on, if it still has a public benefit.”

Tarling appreciates the rose circle, named after the park superintendent who created it based on a 1927 design by City Engineer William Dougherty, and said it is excellently maintained, and that rose enthusiasts love it.

“I am concerned that we have a beautiful collection, but not enough people see it,” Tarling said. “John Shannon, the horticulturist, takes great care of it. We want people to come down to see them because that is why they are there and they don’t get the attention they deserve.”

He thinks the garden isn’t as visible as it could be because a privet hedge surrounds most of the rose garden. The hedge was part of the original design, Tarling said, and serves to protect the roses from the wind. But it means that the roses are partially blocked from view when people drive by or look over from Deering Oaks.

But even if more people came to visit the garden, it still would need more help to maintain it because of budget cuts.

Michael Bobinsky, director of public services for Portland, said the city now has only two full-time laborers taking care of all of its plantings, and the seasonal staff is down to one person.

Bobinsky said the cuts have been implemented over the past four years, and he is hoping that the Friends of Deering Oaks or the Maine Rose Society will enter into a partnership with the city to do more of the maintenance of the rose circle as well as other gardens in the city.

Barbara Hager of the Friends of Deering Oaks said she had just been contacted by the city, and that the Friends want to talk to the Rose Society before making any decisions. Jerry Morin, president of the Rose Society, said members will discuss the circle at a meeting July 17.

“We are looking for financial support, but more important is people coming in and helping out,” Tarling said. “Not only coming in and doing hand work in the rose circle, but by being docents, to conduct tours of the garden so more people could enjoy it.”

He said the city has cut back its garden expenses in other parts of the city by doing such things as switching from annuals to perennials.

Tarling said it is good to see a lot of people at Deering Oaks for the Farmers Market on Saturdays, but very few of them cross the street and visit the rose circle.

Clarence Rhodes of Portland evaluates the rose circle for All-America Rose Selections, which he describes as a national organization for the development and sale of roses.

Each year hybridizers submit their creations to be judged and a few of them are selected as AARS roses. The rose circle is one of 100 gardens around the country that gets the winners a year before they are announced to the public. The garden also has past winners of the AARS awards on display.

Rhodes said that he goes to the garden six or more times a year as part of his evaluations for AARS, and he often sees rose growers from all around the country there, so he thinks it does serve a purpose.

And he says it has no trouble meeting the All-America Rose Selections standards.

While Tarling says the relationship with All-America Rose Selections has been good, the city is going beyond AARS roses to show off some of the newer low-maintenance roses that have come on the market in recent years.

He said the circle has about 600 roses, and probably about 30 of them are replaced each year. The circle doesn’t have any old-fashioned roses, and the longest any of the roses will last is about 10 years.

“A lot of real care goes into this,” he said. “John Shannon and his crew cut them back each winter and then plant some new ones in the spring.”

For the past couple of years, the rose garden has been hit by thieves, who cut the roses when they were at their peak. Tarling said the police have increased patrol of the garden, including bike patrols.


Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

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