Photo by William J. Huff
First time visitors to Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo often make a detour before they see the African Savanna and Tropical Elephant Forest. Even before they get to the front gates of the zoo, they are lured away by the sight and scent of one of the loveliest rose gardens in the entire Northwest United States.
The Woodland Park Rose Garden, located beside the zoo, has been beguiling people since its inception in 1924. Last year, over 200,000 visitors came in the wide gateways to stroll entranced around the 2.5 acres. In 1999, the gardens were named "Most Outstanding Rose Garden" in the US by the AARS.
It's a great place to visit, especially when the roses are in full spate, usually around the end of June. At last count, some 260 different types of roses, with over 5000 individual plants, produce explosions of bright bloom amid the winding paths and soft, velvety grass.
And the selection changes over the years. The garden is one of only 24 All-American Rose Test Gardens in the United States, and new varieties are being discovered and planted every spring. Each new rose is given two years to prove itself. Winners are awarded their own bed of six to 20 plants, but those that don't make the grade are ruthlessly thrown out or sent back to their makers for further work. The flowers that are left are truly the cream of the crop.
The history of the rose garden parallels that of Seattle. According to their website, the concept for a Seattle Civic Rose Garden in Woodland Park bloomed formally in 1922 through the combined inspiration and effort of the Seattle Lionís Club and the Seattle Rose Society. The Gardenís purpose was to provide a free, public display of roses suitable for Seattleís climate. The original garden plan, prepared by Howard E. Andrews, was approved by the Superintendent of Parks in October of 1922. Construction of the garden was completed in 1924 and when the garden opened it encompassed 1.8 acres and exhibited 150 varieties of roses. The Rose Gardenís reputation grew steadily and in 1947 the garden was taken under the jurisdiction of the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department. That same year, it was selected to be a nationally recognized All-American Rose Selections test site.In November, 1955, a freak cold wave threatened to destroy the still-green plants. Thanks to quick action on the part of the citizenry, many plants were saved, and over $5000 was allocated to replant damaged roses.
The lovely setting is a favorite of Seattle brides. In fact, demand has grown so great that only one wedding per day is allowed on the grounds, and the gates must stay open to the public during all ceremonies.