ARS Garden Center Main Entry sign

Rebuilding America’s Rose Garden

The American Rose Center Gardens

The rose gardens at the ARS Rose Center Gardens have been here since 1974 and have expanded to 20,000+ plants, in wooded area with a visitor center, walkways, and a reflection pool.

All the buildings are located on a 118-acre wooded tract near Shreveport, Louisiana, and are in America’s largest park dedicated to roses.

The acreage that makes up the ARS property was donated to the Society by a local resident in 1970 and by 1972, a Master Plan was agreed upon that included a well-designed administration building and plans for the gardens.

By 1974, the Society had made the full move to Shreveport from Columbus, Ohio, and the gardens were open to the public with much fanfare.

“A National Rosarium for the American Rose Society: an attempt to realize the vision of a vast garden devoted to the display, study, and culture of roses in all their forms, to demonstration of their capacities, and to providing facilities for research onto all related subjects.”
1935 ARS President J. Horace McFarland

The Klima Education and Visitor Center is their venue for programs and events, while the Schorr Library preserves a valuable collection of books and publications of rose literature and history. Plus there’s a wedding chapel.

Numerous annual events include:

  • Easter Egg Hunt
  • Evening of Wine & Roses
  • Allen Owings Horticulture Symposium
  • Quarterly Green Thumb educational series
  • Angel of Hope Candlelight and Healing Ceremony
  • Christmas in Roseland

The 2017 proposal

Woman Visiting Large Garden

In 2017, after years of discussion and fundraising, the American Rose Society launched the ‘Great Garden Restoration Project’ – an ambitious 5 year plan to restore and improve the gardens at the American Rose Center by 2022.

A number of structures had been added in succeeding years, greatly enhancing the value of the property – but over time, the garden’s appeal deteriorated.

Pine trees had grown to massive heights, and robbed roses of sunlight, nutrients and moisture.

Deer multiplied every year and became more emboldened, destroying new growth on the rose bushes. The original scheme for 60-plus small garden spots throughout the acreage was expensive to maintain.

Currently, the American Rose Center still features a vast array of roses across numerous gardens, with a multitude of companion plants, sculptures and fountains, including the beautiful Dudley Watkins Reflection Pool.

But the designers have a plan that will incorporate many of these bushes into unified rings around which visitors can walk and enjoy them.

ARS 2020 New Gardens Plan

Designers Paul Zimmerman and Richard Beales created a vision for the gardens’ new design: the ‘History of the Rose in America.’ 3 guiding design principles aim to create a garden that reduces maintenance, is visitor friendly, and is respectful of the environment.The overall design is being funded by a working partnership with Jackson & Perkins, a long-time supplier of roses to the ARS.

Visitors to the garden will learn of the milestones of the 126-year-old Society and honor the roses and their breeders that shaped the amazing history of the ARS, plus the garden will be intertwined with walkways so you can get up close to your favorite roses during your visit.

Included in this telling of the “History of the Rose in America” will be some of the stories around great roses.

Peace‘, the world’s favorite. It was created in France and “smuggled” into the US at the close of World War II. Not only beautiful and fragrant, ‘Peace’ has been the parent of many roses through hybridization.

Yellow Rose of Texas‘, a rose that traversed the country with early settlers of America.

Grandiflora class of roses, that began with the royally famous beauty, ‘Queen Elizabeth.’

Miniflora class that was added in the 1990s to distinguish roses that were smaller than Hybrid Teas, but larger than miniatures.

Rose Rustlers, rosarians whose mission was to locate and preserve old lost roses found in cemeteries and old homesteads.

McFarland portrait
McFarland rose up close

The gardens will feature McFarland Plaza, dedicated to the “Father of the American Rose Society,” J. Horace McFarland, an early leader, editor and publisher for the organization. More about him here. .

This impressive plaza starts with the introduction to the “clockworks” that will make up the new design of the gardens – a series of circular gardens, as gears in a vintage pocket watch, representing in a graphic way a tour of rose history, going back in time from the present day.

ARS was given ownership of a rose named for McFarland by Meilland who hybridized it, including naming and registration rights, plus 450 bushes. 100 of these have just recently been planted in the new ‘McFarland Plaza Rose Garden’ at the Center.

Another first in its history, ARS will exhibit roses in glazed ceramic pots on McFarland Plaza. This should be a startling new addition, and will add to the peaceful aesthetic of the Plaza.

The starting plan is to include 2 sizes in a color designed to compliment the charcoal colored brick in the center of the First Circle.

The design concept of “Circular Garden Geometry” is not new. It originated with Robert Royston, a 20th century landscape architect who used the concept to great effect in his native California. The blueprints show how effective the concept is in context.

Landscape architecture: “Practices the fine art of relating the structure of culture to the nature of landscape, to the end that people can use it, enjoy it, and preserve it.”
Robert Royston, Landscape Architect
ARS new garden ring plan 2020

The plan is centered around 4 main rose garden circles in the center of the garden that will tell the “History of the Rose in America”.

There are still many opportunities in 2020 to be involved with grant funding and naming within both the circles and the outer gardens – right down to the benches and walkway bricks.

Outside of those circles, there are 8 other garden areas under construction that are themed, starting right at the entrance and surrounding the many walkways.

Leveraging the investment

Importantly, ARS also plans to add to the legacy of the garden as well as re-create it for the 21st century. This will include:

  • Seeking Botanical Garden status
  • Gaining historic status on the National Register of Historic Places
  • Introducing the ARC International Rose Trials as a yearly event

All goals are to grow the number of visitors, build prestige, and be a great source of pride for ARS members going forward.

Interested in keeping up with all the changes? Visit the ARS Gardens site here . .

When gardens are safe retreats . . .

One cannot research this enormous garden project without putting it into context during the Covid-19 outbreak here in the U.S. during 2020.

“We are reminded that gardens are places where one can unwind, rest, exercise, learn, be uplifted and inspired, find solace and tranquility, and find fullfillment when gardens and roses are our calling.”
Marilyn Wellan, ARC Coordinator, Great Garden Restoration Project

This virus arrived at an important time in the reconstruction of the garden, when delivery schedules are interrupted, but construction has to continue at a reduced pace. Plant and design staffing is reduced due to social distancing, plus in-person meetings are rare.

In addition to the new plant arrivals, the recently planted roses are being cared for by a few members of staff daily.

Rose growing in America is changing faster all the time

Out are the fussy diva roses and in are the low-maintenance shrub roses. While rose shows are still fun and popular, today’s shrub roses open up all different kinds of ways to grow roses. From flower borders to formal to informal to pots; the sheer diversity of today’s roses in terms of growth habit means there truly is a rose for everyone, the way Mr McFarland would want.

ARS for a long while had a reputation as being full of fussy rose growers.

Complicated fertilizer plans, lots of chemical sprays and very strict showing guidelines all seemed to leave out the general gardener. And it was a reputation that was probably deserved.

No longer. Anyone who has read rose blogs over the past 2 years knows how strongly I feel about rose gardening being for every type of gardener.

The ARS vision for the future is a good one, and even more importantly a “big tent” one, as you can see from all the plans outlined in this post. You can see this change in your mailbox with their magazine “American Rose”.

It has been redesigned and is now full of great articles covering all aspects of rose growing – and all experience levels – even highlighting new, young rosarians.

If you want to learn something about “all-things rose” it’s a great start.

Most rosarians love to share their passion.

While you’re at it, check out the local chapter of the American Rose Society in your town, which is part of a network of more than 300 nationally affiliated rose societies. There, you will meet fellow rose lovers and some very talented rose gardeners, plus have access to their invaluable experience growing roses where you live.

If you have trouble finding one, the ARS website has a listing page or call your local Master Gardener program.

The U.S. is a big country with lots of different climates and there is nothing like the knowledge of rose growers in your area to elevate your rose game.

That will help move things forward more than anything!

Major benefits most ARS members can take advantage of . .

Angel Gardens, 10% discount,

David Austin Roses, 10% discount,

Fish In The Garden, 15% discount, email him directly: fishinthegarden

High Country Roses, 15%

Jackson & Perkins, 15% discount,

KeyPlex, $2.00 off discount, $2.00 donation to ARS,

Mitchell Nelson’s Fine Art, 20% discount,

Northland Rosarium, 10%

Pine Straw Direct, 5% discount,

Plant Addicts, 10% discount,

Rogue Valley Roses, 10% discount,

Witherspoon Rose Culture, 10% discount,

The Full list as a PDF from ARS with phone numbers & descriptions is here . .

All things available from the American Rose Society can be found here . .

Sources: Wikipedia, ARS online, American Rose Magazine by ARS, American Rose Annual by ARS,

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