Queens Botanical Garden (QBG) grew out of the remaining horticulture exhibits from the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. One of the more notable displays was the Rose Garden in the “Gardens on Parade” exhibit, a presentation by Jackson & Perkins, one of the largest and most reputable rose growers in the world. The company donated hundreds of plants to the World’s Fair exhibit—and the mail order rose business got its start, too!
Roses Make Their Home in Flushing
Officially known as “The Queens Botanical Garden Society” since 1946, when local residents saved and expanded the original exhibit, the Garden remained at the original World’s Fair site. In 1961, the Garden was moved to its current location on Main Street in Flushing.
The original Rose Garden spanned a large area that includes the current Annual Garden, Perennial Garden, Rose Garden and portions of the Oak Allée. During the 1990s, rose plants were consolidated to create concentrated plantings by rearranging select gardens. By 2007, roses were located only in the current Annual Garden (known then as the Jackson & Perkins Rose Garden), along portions of the Oak Allée, and in the current Rose Garden (rose display by a local rose garden club). These locations contained lush and concentrated plantings, but were susceptible to flooding.
So, in 2009, QBG gardener and rosarian Karl McKoy took on the project of moving the rose collection and re-imagining its display. The objective was to create a brand new sustainable Rose Garden and to concentrate remaining roses in the Annual Garden. Karl, along with help from garden assistant Angelika Swantek, designed the garden, curated the new selection of rose plants, and even fabricated trellises!
Sustainability and Fortification
New roses were selected with disease resistance in mind. At the time, the international rose community had become interested in pesticide-free roses, which preceded a heightened movement of breeding disease-resistant roses. Karl selected 130 roses from the rose.org international list. In addition to their disease resistance, they were compatible with NYC’s USDA planting zone. Among the 130 plants were three of each cultivar. Plants were all arranged with a varying color scheme in mind—yellow, salmon, red—fanning out from a white center.
“Circle form is pleasing for a garden”
Learning Along The Way
The roses were planted in “mounded beds,” whereby soil is piled up and reinforced to keep plants above the ground. This keeps the roots dry. Mounds successfully kept roots out of the water, but were falling victim to runoff, which happens when water washes away soil and causes roots to become exposed. Additionally, the mounds were attractive to animals—squirrels would bury acorns in the mounds and pull them out in the spring and robins would rip apart the mounds in search of lunch!
In an effort to fix these issues, netting was added to cover the mounds, which were then ripped open by critters. Next, a product called Soiltac*, a mixture that holds its form when dried, was poured onto the mounds. This did not last. Mounding beds for rose bushes is a technique that is unique to QBG, which means there was no recipe for success. In search of a remedy, Karl was willing to try anything! Research into bed stabilization led to an answer in 2016. A wildflower seed mix containing coreopsis, daisy, poppy, bluebell, verbena, and other species was sown on the mounds. Not only did the wildflowers look gorgeous and attract pollinators, but their root systems stabilized the mounds, protecting the rose roots, and now, a whole ecosystem flourishes at ground level—SUCCESS!
QBG continues to plant disease-resistant roses and does not use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides. Occasionally, roses are given a boost of nitrogen from organic fertilizers like seaweed and fish emulsion. Because of the Garden’s practices, it was the perfect candidate for the national American Garden Rose Selections™ (AGRS™) program. AGRS™ places new rose hybrids in select locations to test disease resistance and bloom before they are released to market. Roses that are part of these selections are planted in our Annual Garden. Plants are judged over a two-year period, with judges visiting a total of ten times before rose plants are removed from the trial location. Based on their performance, the roses are either composted or planted in other locations.
*Learn more about Soiltac and Karl McKoy’s discoveries on the substance in, The Sustainable Rose Garden, A Reader in Rose Culture.