Take a break to enjoy Elizabeth's roses


WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - A man sets up his easel to paint the landscape. Girlfriends spread out a blanket and catch up over a picnic lunch. A bride poses with her bridesmaids to commemorate the big day.

The setting is Elizabeth Park - a botanical backdrop and meeting place for a day trip, reflection or just a walk through the gardens. Spending an afternoon at Elizabeth Park brings together a community of strangers, most who are enjoying the roses.

One of the many rose features at Elizabeth Park during June.
"Elizabeth Park is an example of a late nineteenth century horticultural park owned by a municipality. It's open 365 days a year and is free to all," said Andrea Masisak, manager of gardens, grounds and volunteers at Elizabeth Park Conservancy. "Given Hartford's financial challenges, its a miracle a park like this continues to survive because no municipality would design a park like this today." (To read more on the history of the park, click here.)

With 101 acres - 82 in West Hartford and 19 in Hartford - Elizabeth Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The park is divided into four major sections: the Gardens and the Farmstead, the East Lawn, the Pond Area and the Western Loop. For Connecticut residents, a mention of Elizabeth Park conjures instant images of roses in bloom. The rose garden, centrally located within the park, reaches peak bloom during June but continues flowering through September. (Click here for the blooming schedule.)

"It's the oldest municipal rose garden in the United States (1904) and the third largest with an estimated 15,000 roses. In bloom, it's a site to see," said Masisak. The rose garden is 2.5 acres and contains 475 flower beds. Rose breeders have even tested some varieties in the garden, according to Masisak.

The collection includes hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas, shrub, Austin and climbers. The arches are currently being restored at the park, but still provide blooms from several climbing roses. Rose aficionados, artists and photographers can be found among the flowers, documenting the blooms of rare and antique roses. The garden also welcomes volunteers to help maintain the plants.

"It's estimated the park gets 500,000 to 750,000 annual visitors from around the country and the world. The rose garden is a draw, but we also have other lovely gardens at the park," she said. Four additional gardens connect and create garden rooms: the perennial garden, the shade-rock garden, heritage rose and the tulip-annual garden, according to the Elizabeth Park website. The design reflects a combination of European formal gardens and natural touches.

There are many events planned on the grounds this summer, including concerts, movie nights, yoga and even the Connecticut Ballet's Summer Dance Caravan on the rose garden lawn. Ready to visit? The park is located at 1561 Asylum Ave., West Hartford, Conn. For more information, click here. Also, be sure to check out the (commonsense) rules and regulations.

To view the photo gallery from my visit, click here.

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