Bethlehem Rose Garden
On February 26, 1931, Mr. Ario Wear (Superintendent of the Department of Parks) formally reached out to Mrs. James Findlay, President of the Bethlehem Garden Club to assist in the planting of a rose garden on the grounds of a former preparatory school.
From their collaboration, and design input from Mr. Robert Pyle, a world-renowned horticulturist and owner of Conard-Pyle (now Star Roses & Plants) of West Grove, PA, and J. Horace McFarland, President of the American Rose Society, the Bethlehem Rose Garden opened on May 11, 1931 with 75 varieties of roses represented in 3,500 rose bushes.
Each individual garden bed contained 24 to 56 of the same variety together, following a color scheme devised by Mr. Wear: yellow roses in the center, white roses in the first rim from the center, pink roses in the second rim from the center, and red roses in the outside rim. Roses of other shades were planted in focal points throughout the oval.
Encompassing the rose garden were 500 flowering shrubs, bearing colored berries in the fall/winter; as well as evergreens and cedar trees. These shrubs (as well as 500 roses) were generously donated to the city by Mr. Pyle.
After only a few weeks, the Rose Garden enjoyed several thousand visitors, remarking about the magnificence of the layout. A quote from The Morning Call's article on June 30, 1931, "The exquisite beauty of the blooms enhanced with the sparkling background of loveliness that the city park affords has sent the many spectators away with bubbling stories of admiration which consequently have reached other ears and brought them to this garden scene of splendor."
Later on, another 1,500 roses were added, bringing the total to 5,000, bringing visitors from other cities to admire its beauty.
For many years, the rose garden was well-maintained. Unfortunately, due to a compounding of various circumstances, it has fallen into a sad state. With a lack of weeding, dying roses not being removed and replaced, no fertilizing or pruning taking place, and a case of Rose Rosette Disease causing the removal of around 3 dozen roses, 5,000 roses has slowly decreased to around 100.
Through a collaboration between the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association and the Lehigh Valley Rose Society (with assistance from Adam Waldron [President of Bethlehem City Council] and Chris Sule [Superintendent of Grounds Maintenance]) a volunteer group was formed in June 2020 to work on weeding, removing RRD-infected roses, and mulching the garden beds of the rose garden on Saturdays from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM. But to restore the rose garden will require more than just volunteer labor.
Funds are needed to purchase roses, additional plants (native pollinator plants and wildflowers are being discussed), organic fertilizer, and organic sprays (such as copper fungicide and neem oil), etc.
It is the goal of the Lehigh Valley Rose Society (LVRS) for the Bethlehem Rose Garden to not just be a garden of beautiful roses, but a place the community can be proud of again. A place where we (LVRS) can host free, public educational demonstrations about roses (identifying, planting, fertilizing, pruning, cutting/arranging, disease/pest identification & management, etc.) for interested gardeners. A space to encourage people to get outdoors where they can walk along the paths, have picnics, and take photos amongst the flowers to mark special occasions. But also, to serve as a crucially needed habitat for pollinating insects.
In May 2021, the Rose Garden will be 90 years old. Let's make it a grand celebration by bringing it back to its former glory!
(The Bethlehem Rose Garden, 1958 - KARDmasters Allentown, PA / Dexter Press / 57339 / 61.)