By Kristen Curry

The rose gardens in Roger Williams Park are truly a labor of love, maintained in partnership with the Botanical Center staff, by a dedicated team of rosarians and supported by a gift which celebrates a love for roses.

The Park’s rose gardens received a significant boost a few years ago with funds for restoration from the Vivian J. Palmieri Trust, a fund created in memory of Mr. Vivian Palmieri and his appreciation for nature, in hopes of sharing their family’s love of roses with others.

The family’s generous donation helped renovate the Victorian Rose Garden and the Rose Maze behind the Botanical Center, which display more than 30 varieties of roses altogether, blooming June through November. The rose maze has been redesigned by director Lee Ann Freitas, with a beautiful neo-classical pergola and 28 new trellises. With the continued support of the Palmieri Family Fund, there are plans to do more in the future, such as creating a path to the maze. The Park’s rose gardens are among the largest public displays of roses in the state.

As both sites are popular destinations for wedding celebrations, it’s only fitting that their maintenance comes from a gift born of love and from a love of roses, by the volunteers and the Botanical Center staff who help to maintain them.

Dedicated gardeners Mary Malouin and Kevin Rabbitt have been longtime volunteers in the Park, although Kevin’s gardening talents have since been tapped by the nearby community garden, to help grow the bounty of produce provided for local food pantries and agencies.

Mary, a veteran rose grower and URI Master Gardener, has volunteered in Roger Williams Park for over 10 years in different capacities, including at the Betsey Williams Cottage. Now, Mary has a standard rose in the middle of the maze dedicated to her, celebrating her work in the Park. Fellow Master Gardener Nancy Esau says, “Mary is such a great teacher and mentor that I followed her when she took on the Rose Maze.” This team is also joined by volunteer Emmy Kmet. The Park’s rose programs took a bit of a pandemic pause in the past year, but they hope to soon resume docent tours.

As elsewhere in the Park, the rose gardens are environmentally-friendly, managed with research-based, organic practices, no pesticides or insecticides. For the most part, Mother Nature provides the best care for her roses. This year’s rains did much to help produce spectacular roses this summer and the gift of auto irrigation has been a boon as well.

Although rose season is starting to wind down, the bare roses are still part of the park’s landscape and can be viewed this fall while preparations are underway for June blooms. Visitors can find beauty in the thorns and appreciate all aspects of the life cycle. Some standouts to look for on your next visit include Salsa, Cinco de Mayo, and Lady of Shalott – be sure to smell these beauties.

The Park’s newest rose volunteer is Santosh Kulkarni, who can be found in his free time in the Victorian Rose Garden, where roses have grown since the 1880s. A high-flying engineer by day, when his schedule allows, Santosh relishes returning to earth to work in the garden at the Park’s Elmwood Ave. entrance. An avid rose gardener, Santosh recently moved to Rhode Island from Michigan. He first started reading up on rose plants and how to care for them, after his first backyard planting didn’t turn out so well. The more he learned, the more his passion grew. He offered to volunteer his time and knowledge at the Victorian Rose Garden this summer, where he met Mary. Ever since, Santosh has been spending his spare time pruning, dead-heading, weeding and fertilizing the many beautiful plants at the Rose Garden. He does it not only for the love of roses, but also as a way to give back to the community. Nothing makes him happier than to see the many visitors taking pictures with the beautiful rose blooms, and the occasional thank-you from a kindly passerby.

We are so grateful to the amazing volunteers who choose to spend their free time helping to improve the Rose Maze and Victorian Rose Garden.

To visit the rose gardens: the Victorian Rose Garden lies at the Park’s Elmwood Avenue entrance. The Rose Maze is located behind the Botanical Center and can be viewed with ticket purchase; see for details.

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