By Justin Robinson
Visiting the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden leaves one, much like I am on my visits, wordless. Rows of beautiful, fragrant roses in bloom beacon visitor's imaginations back to a perfect, primal beginning or forward toward the hope of paradise, making it hard to believe that this place of recreational tranquility for so many East Texans was once fallow ground.
The property that is now home to the nation's largest rose garden was first purchased by the City of Tyler in 1912 for the construction of a park and fairgrounds. Lying wild from that time through an application to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Project Administration (WPA) to fund the construction of the municipal rose garden in 1938, while the $181,255 federal grant was approved, while a stone picnic pavilion, balcony, stairs and other garden features where constructed, and finally until Henry Thompson, a local nurseryman, laid out a few walkways, planted some trees and shrubbery.
Development of the gardens was suspended during World War II because of Tyler's vigorous wartime efforts. During which time the man whose hands had worked the garden's soils, Mr. Thompson, died serving as a fighter pilot overseas, the garden eventually being dedicated in his memory.
Following the war, the patch of land that had become little more than an eyesore took hold of the eyes of Robert Shelton, Jr., the Superintendent of the Parks and Recreation Department in Tyler, Texas during the 1950s, and he made it his top priority to complete the garden.
Before the first rose could was planted, Shelton enlisted the help of Dr. Eldon W. Lyle of the Texas Rose Research Foundation to evaluate the plot. Lyle's verdict was that roses would grow there, but that they would require a help to do so. So, extensive work was done to improve and transform the hard, red clay soil into a proper loam for growing roses.
After almost forty years, the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden became a reality when it was dedicated in June 1952. The roses in the first garden were donated by Tyler-area nurseries and growers, who had made the Tyler rose industry as lustrous as the roses it produced. Since that opening, thousands more bushes, many perennials, and a daylily garden, as well as additional walkways, ponds and fountains have been added.
When visiting, personally, I like to take things away from the garden. Taking a pad and pencil to write the names of rose varieties and species that appeal to me, and would fit my own garden, taking photographs of my wife and children among the blooms or taking the silence that is offered by the pond in the Meditation Garden.
On occasion, when feeling a little criminal, I have even pocketed a few hips to propagate a few seedlings -but don't tell the staff.