Thousands of fragrant and colorful roses will be in full bloom for Hartford's Elizabeth Park Rose Weekend this Saturday and Sunday. A new addition this year is the newly-dedicated Heritage Rose Garden, where rare and historic species thrive.
Among the blossoms is a modest and unusual rose with a fascinating history.
Some of the roses in the Heritage Garden are really old, like the Ancient Musk Rose, a species that traces its roots back to the 1500s, but could be much, much older.
"It was mentioned in medical writings as far back as 77 A.D.," said Stephen Scanniello, Elizabeth Park's professional Rosarian. "And it's a rose that was very popular. It came into North America with the Dutch, the British, the French, and the Swedes because it was a medicinal plant. It's a rose that blooms all summer. It's not a very big flowered rose, but it's a rose that smells wonderful. It's probably beginning to bloom now."
Scanniello is the author of A Rose By Any Name, a look at certain rose species and their connection to history, science, literature, and folklore. He said a big part of his fascination with heritage roses is their connection to history. Take, for instance the Green Rose, a unique species with a fascinating narrative first discovered in Charleston, South Carolina.
"It is really strange, a strange looking rose," Scanniello said. "You essentially have a rose that is just made up of leaves. It blooms like a rose, it has a fragrance like black pepper, but it's a rose. And the rumor, out of Baltimore, is that it allegedly was used as a signal of some sort in the Underground Railroad."
Legend has it that Maryland Quakers guiding escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad wore the Green Rose as a way to signal to each other.
After hearing Scanniello's description of the Green Rose, I decided to go and see it for myself.
There, in the Heritage Rose Garden, hiding among cascading blooms of white and pink roses, I spotted a tiny plant with one Green Rose.
"It can't be more than a foot and it is just green as green can be," said Christine Doty, the executive director of the Elizabeth Park Conservancy. "You could almost miss it. And the petals, they almost look like daisy petals, don't they? They are very narrow. If this was meant to be a subtle indication of where the underground railroad stop was, it certainly is subtle."
Rose Weekend is this Saturday and Sunday at Elizabeth Park in Hartford.