Going Home: Our visit to the Huntington Rose Garden

This past week we visited a place near and dear to my heart, the Huntington Rose Garden in San Marino. I was born in the San Gabriel Valley, home of the Rose Parade, and my love of roses began here, in Pasadena. It was the early 80’s. I was living with my Grandma Grace at a wonderful place she and fifty other retired missionaries called home. My Nana had her own cottage at the missionary retirement campus, and like all her friends there, she grew roses. The ten acre campus was home to thousands of roses that were all tended to by the missionaries. They took such pride in their roses and all these years later, I can still remember intricate details. I was a tiny toddler, the only child in the whole complex, wandering from cottage to cottage to visit the missionaries and their rose gardens. They always welcomed me to play in their gardens.

Several years ago I met Tom Carruth, rose hybridizer extraordinaire and one of the US’s most respected rosarians. The Pasadena area, where my Nana lived is known for its beautiful roses, and at the center of it all is the incomparable Huntington Rose Garden. Tom is the curator of the Garden, where many of his own “kids” (as he lovingly calls his roses) can be found blooming in abundance. This spring I emailed Tom to see if we could visit the garden and he immediately replied saying he’d love to have us. It had been a few years since my last visit and I was feeling a strong pull towards home.

Our visit to the Huntington could not have been more beautiful. The weather was perfect. The roses were in full bloom and walking the gardens reassured me that the path I’ve chosen in life, to grow roses for myself and others, is my truth. Our farm is named after my Grandma Grace, so without her and my toddler years among her roses, our farm would have never been. There is a sacredness to the Huntington Rose Garden that reminds me of my Nana. It’s a place where you cannot help but be awed by the spectacular beauty of nature.

Tom walked us around each and every rose in the garden. In typical Gracie fashion, I found beauties to add to our farm’s collection. Tom’s utterly romantic blush hybrid tea, Meredith, moved to the top of my wish list. He took me over to a hedge of Meredith and said he thought I’d like her. I was so flattered because it meant he must have done a little homework and discovered my unwavering love of blush. Meredith has the most graceful nodding heads, which makes her ideal for a cottage garden. Typically we steer clear of most roses with nodding heads because customers tend to think the stems are dead, but Meredith is worth the extra customer education she will require.

And then there was Matilda! I had seen this petite white-to-blush ombré shrub several times before, but she really stole my heart this time. I’m determined to add this precious floribunda to our gardens. She might not win for longest vase life, but she will definitely be voted most charming!

The rose that had me most in awe was “Huntington’s 100," Tom’s rose that celebrates the Huntington’s centennial year. The sprays of ruffled flowers start out as a creamy yellow, changing to violet-pink as they mature and then a pale blush at the end of their bloom. This floribunda’s fragrance is described by its creator as “intense lemon with just a hint of baby powder.” This rose is packed with hundreds of buds that bloom in the most spectacular clusters and I love the story behind this gorgeous creation. We are hoping to add hundreds of Huntington’s 100 to our gardens.

Much like our farm, without the hands of highly skilled gardeners, none of what we saw in the garden would be possible. We met John, the rose garden’s caretaker and Susan, who works at the Huntington and has followed Grace Rose Farm's journey. The Huntington Rose Garden relies on dozens of volunteers to donate thousands of hours to winter prune, deadhead and care for the roses throughout the year. It’s a beautiful thing to see what people working together can create! The garden is immaculate, just as the whole Huntington property is. Some of the volunteers and staff were making pizzas with fresh ingredients from their vegetable garden and invited us to join them. It was a wonderful experience to see people enjoying their time together amongst the plants. I hope I’m able to become a volunteer at the Huntington Rose Garden in the near future.

If you find yourself in Los Angeles, a visit here is a must. It’s like stepping into a botanical utopia and the bustling melts away. It’s a step back in time, a place where the language of plants is spoken; trellises overflow with blooms, bees are moving from stamen to stamen and the roses show off in every color imaginable. I’m so thankful we took the day to immerse ourselves in the Rose Garden. I feel more connected than ever to my own roses and so very grateful for my early years learning to love the most beautiful flower in the world, the rose, just a few miles away at my Nana’s. I was home.

With spring's arrival, now is the time to visit rose gardens across the country. Here we've outline what are widely considered the top five rose gardens in the country, as well as an expanded list of other incredible rose gardens. I hope there is one near you! If you visit, be sure to share photos with us on social media. We'd love to see what's blooming across the country.

Top Five Rose Gardens:

San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, San Jose, CA: Named "America's Best Rose Garden" by the prestigious All American Rose Selection, this 5 1/2 acre garden was founded in 1927 and boasts more than 4,000 rose bushes representing 189 varieties.

International Test Rose Garden, Portland, OR: With over 10,000 rose bushes representing over 650 varieties, the best time to visit this garden is at its June peak, although roses bloom from April through October. As the oldest, continually-operating public rose garden in the country, its primary purpose is to serve as a testing ground for new rose varieties.

Elizabeth Park, Hartford, CT: This stunning rose garden can be found at the center of Elizabeth Park. As the first municipal rose garden in the US, it's now home to over 15,000 rose bushes and over 800 varieties. The rose arches are particularly stunning, and bloom in full from late June through July.

The Park of Roses, Columbus, OH: Located in the Whetstone Park, this 13-acre garden is home to 12,000 rose plants from 400 different species, and includes a Formal Rose Garden, with rose beds laid out in a symmetrical pattern, as well as a Heritage Rose Garden, featuring rose varieties cultivated before 1867.

Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, Bronx, NY: Once the more than 4,000 roses begin blooming this garden is the most popular destination at the New York Botanical Garden. Originally designed in 1916, the garden now contains more than 650 varieties of roses and blooms from May through October.

Other stunning rose gardens:
Longmont Memorial Rose Garden, Longmont, CO
The Garden Club of McKeesport Rose Garden, McKeesport, PA
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Rose Garden, Sarasota, FL
Dr. E.M. Mills Rose Garden in Thornden Park, Syracuse, NY
White House Rose Garden, Washington, D.C.
Biltmore, Ashville, NC

Inez Grant Parker Rose Garden at Balboa Park, San Diego, CA
Rose Garden at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
Descanso Rose Garden, Pasadena, CA
Mission Rose Garden, Santa Barbara, CA
World Peace Rose Garden, Sacramento, CA
Berkeley Rose Garden, Berkeley, CA
Tyler Rose Garden, Tyler, TX

A few more images from our trip to the Huntington Rose Garden!