[ Reprinted here with permission of Bruce and Barbara Lind from an article in the ‘American Rose’ magazine of the ARS. ]


This is the first of what we see as a series of articles dealing with the history of rose growing in Tacoma. 

Nationwide, we are celebrating “Year of the Rose 2002,” and this is great. Tacoma residents have been celebrating roses and the beauty and joy they bring to us for more than 100 years. 

It is regularly mentioned that the Tacoma Rose Society, having been in continuous existence since 1911, is the oldest rose society in Washington State.  By 1911 Tacoma had been featuring rose activities for almost 20 years.  So you can see, roses have been a big part of Tacoma activities since the city’s very early days.

An article printed in the Tacoma News Tribune on June 12, 1955 gives a brief summary of some of the early history of roses in Tacoma.  Believe it or not, Tacoma staged rose carnivals and rose parades in the period from 1896 – 1905.  The Queen of the Tacoma Rose Carnival of 1897 was Anna Griggs, daughter of the first president of the St. Paul & Tacoma Lumber Company (she was a Princess at the first carnival in 1896).  Using a combination of news stories of the day and an interview with Queen Anna, some of the features of this early Rose Carnival were recounted.

The harbor was full of ships (including four Navy vessels), there was a concert and a ball, a rose show, and of course there was a parade with many (more than 30) “coaches and four” carrying prominent citizens.  The parade also featured a considerable number of floats.  The date was July 1, 1897 and it is not really surprising that it rained on their parade.  It is very clear from the article that the rain really did little to dampen their enthusiasm for the Tacoma Rose Carnival!

Roses at Point Defiance Park date back to the very founding of the park.  A September 15, 1890 story in the Tacoma Daily Ledger discusses both the progress being made in clearing land and the plans for the future Pt. Defiance Park.  (At this time much of the land in the current park was the property of the Federal Government, and this was not finally straightened out until about 1905.)

In 1895 Pt. Defiance garden supervisor E. R. Roberts, a man born in North Wales who had trained at many European sites, including Kew Gardens, asked for donations of rose cuttings and seeds.  In the words of an 1898 Ledger article, “the school children of Tacoma have reared for themselves a memorial rosary of 100,000 plants, all grown from cuttings propagated entirely without irrigation, and furnishing flowers enough every summer to conduct a whole rose carnival.”  In response, I can only say “Imagine pruning that garden!  And thank goodness for our dependable rain.”

The rose garden has always been a central feature of Pt. Defiance Park.  The original park layout by the nationally famous landscape architect Sidney J. Hare was formulated in 1902 and updated by him in 1911.  In a Ledger story about the update, it states that there will be no changes to “the famous and attractive rose arbor which during this summer excited the pleased wonder of thousands of visitors.”

We can attest to the fact that, more than 90 years later each summer thousands of visitors continue to wander the Pt. Defiance rose garden in “pleased wonder.” 

Pt. Defiance in the early days from a post card

The current rose garden site on the hill and its circular shape with distinct quadrants dates to the days of Superintendent of Parks E. A. Hill.  In an April 1913 article in the Ledger, Hill’s vision for the garden and its importance to the citizens of Tacoma is brought forward.  A complete list of the 73 varieties of roses, which had not yet bloomed, is given.  We will have more to say on this in a future article.

Rose shows were held in Tacoma as early as 1895 and have been held continuously since 1910 (the year before the official founding of the Tacoma Rose Society).  The rose show in 1897 featured “a magnificent vase of La France roses” from a bush planted by Mrs. Samuel Wilkeson in 1878.  Recall that La France is the first hybrid tea and was created by Guillot et fils in France in 1867.

As you can see, Tacoma had “rosenuts” importing roses from Europe even in her earliest days.  Also mentioned in the article about the 1897 show is a large display of roses contributed by the hospital at Ft. Steilacoom from bushes on their grounds “planted by early settlers thirty years ago.”

A search for our “Roots” is something many of us engage in.  It doesn’t seem possible that the Alex Haley series first aired twenty-five years ago, but that is a fact.  Time passes, things change, people and gardens change as well.  No matter what, Tacoma continues her love affair with roses!  After all, it is in her roots.  We plan to keep digging to expose more of those roots to the current generation of Tacoma “rosenuts.”