Roses don’t really have a predictable lifespan. With the right circumstance and care, their blooms can grace generations, looking and smelling lovely and growing limber and green each spring.

Not so with those who care for them.

Jack Ortega and his wife Juanita have been active members of the Santa Fe Rose Society since the 1980s, when they first met with a lively group of local aficionados who busily tend to one of Santa Fe's best-known city parks.

Now, though, the group's membership is dwindling and its current cast can't keep up with the demands of more than 400 rose plants at the Harvey Cornell Park. But from the difficulty grew a new way for the flower of friendship to blossom in the garden with the Santa Fe Master Gardeners, explains Jack, rose society president.

"The reason for that was that our society got older—both it, and in age of the participants—and we really couldn't maintain the garden as we liked," he tells SFR. "So we partnered with the Master Gardeners, and thanks to them, the garden in the last three or four years has really begun to flourish once again."

Bindweed had threatened to choke the roses. Through the partnership, volunteers completing a 16-week "master" course and a 30-hour community project have almost completely eradicated that problem. Having the rose park among its projects puts more bodies on the job, says Master Gardener Cindy Hoffman, one of the group's coordinators.

Julie Ann Grimm
Julie Ann Grimm / Julie Ann Grimm

Ortega says the city has also taken renewed interest in the park in recent years, helping with tree trimming when too much shade hit the garden, and providing mulch and fertilizer for volunteers to spread among the bushes.

And this year is a special one: the 60th anniversary of the rose garden's formal opening and a gathering to mark the occasion on Saturday June 17.

Situated on the south side of Cordova Road at its intersection with Galisteo Street, the park is a narrow sliver set aside by the neighborhood's developers in 1957 when it marked Santa Fe's edge as it moved southward. Namesake Cornell designed the garden area at the request of the newly formed rose society when he retired in the city, according a story published in the Santa Fean in 1976. Club members have kept it going ever since.

Some details have slipped away over time. When organizers first envisioned this summer's event about nine months ago, they thought it would be a great time to identify what's growing there.

"That proved to be harder than we had imagined," Ortega tells SFR. "We had an initial list of roses that were planted between 1965 and 1969, which we think is a baseline for the roses in the garden, and then we came across another list of roses that is dated 1998. So there are a little over 425 roses in the garden. And we have two lists that really are not matching up very well."

Rose nomenclature is a celebrated part of the garden scene. Some are well-known or have been passed down enough to endure: Those grapefruit-sized blooms with pale yellow centers and pink edges on the garden's east side are "peace roses;" the smaller white ones across the sidewalk from the central fountain are known as "moonbeam;" a short bush with tiny pink blooms is "fairy."

This time next year, Ortega, Hoffman and others expect to pick up the identification project again.

Who knew that roses could be so prolific in the high desert?

"I think the garden is a testament," says Ortega. "During the drought years those were pretty tough, and we got absolutely no rain and we were on heavy-duty water restrictions and the roses adapted naturally. … They are survivors. The garden has been there for such a long time, and they have established a root system and they receive adequate care for where they are at and they do very well."

From the south-facing walls in Bellamah to the front walks of Casa Alegre and the plot outside the Santuario de Guadalupe, it's peak season for not just the public rose garden but the whole city.

Master Gardeners and the Rose Society are offering two free educational opportunities in the garden: a clinic on deadheading on Saturday July 8 and one about getting ready for winter (already?!) on Saturday Aug. 5, both at 9 am. While Hoffman and other volunteers welcome this kind of help, she's got one request for visitors. It's tempting to snip a bloom or two, but please simply sniff instead.

"I wish people would not pick the roses," she says. "Because this garden is so special in Santa Fe, because it's been done by volunteers for Santa Fe, we would hope the people in Santa Fe would not only enjoy it but also protect it."

ROSE PARK 60th ANNIVERSARY
10:30 am Saturday June 17. Free.
Harvey Cornell Rose Park,
1315 Galisteo Parkway,
more info at sfmga.org.