Master Gardeners keep El Paso Municipal Rose Garden blooming

Andrea Valdez-Rivas, Contributor

Caring for more than 1,400 rose bushes at the El Paso Municipal Rose Garden can be challenging, but also therapeutic, said M.J. Tangney, Rose Committee Chair of the El Paso Rose Garden Association.  

The garden, home to more than 430 different rose varieties, depends on more than 100 volunteer master gardeners and interns to keep the rose bushes in good shape for opening season.  

Master gardeners are people who have completed the Texas Master Gardener program. This program is held annually in August and sponsored by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. It requires that applicants complete special coursework and background check, to volunteer at the Rose Garden.  

Tangney has been a Texas Master Gardener for three years. 

“You have to finish all the classroom work, you have to take a test, and then you have to do 62 hours of volunteer hours—for that next year—in order to become a certified master gardener,” Tangney said, as she sported her “Texas Master Gardener” beige cap and protective gardening gloves. 

Anybody can apply for the program. Retired compile majority of the people who enter the program, but young people have also helped the garden, which Tangney hopes continues. 

Harriet Perry, a 2019 graduate of the Texas Master Gardener program, has volunteered for three years. The garden is one of her favorite places to be. 

“It’s just such a beautiful spot, and it took going to the classes to even ever find this place,” Perry said. “This is just a jewel for El Paso.” 

The garden began in 1958, when Ted Harris of the El Paso Parks and Recreation, and “Cap” Phillips, vice president of the El Paso Rose Society, selected the first 200 rose bushes to be planted. It officially opened its doors to the public in 1959. 

It began with just an acre and-a-half of land and now boasts four acres of fully rose-covered ground.  

The garden reopened March 1, but the blossoms aren’t ready this time of year.  

“The recent cold weather and COVID-19 pandemic have not stopped the work done by our (volunteers) in preserving and maintaining the Rose Garden,” said Cultural Affairs and Recreation Director Ben Fyffe in a news release.

Master gardeners are focused on pruning, which requires removing any deceased parts of rose bush to allow the flowers to blossom. They work five days a week from January through February to complete this process. 

“A little bit of a concern I’ve had is that people are coming out thinking that roses are blooming because a picture of blooming roses has been promoted,” Tangney said. “And our roses won’t look like that until least mid-April.”

Tangney and Perry, along with other volunteers, have been working to rake the wood chip mulch that covers the rose bushes’ bases, which helped the bushes survive February’s winter storm. But leaving the root zones covered with mulch for too long could potentially kill the bush, Tangney said.  

“My favorite part is just seeing the fruits of our efforts when the blooms come,” Tangney said. “It’s just—it’s very, very heartwarming and therapeutic to see when the when the roses start blooming, and they just continue blooming as long as we’re deadheading.” 

Deadheading, another master gardener responsibility, differs from pruning. It consists of removing the dead flower and seed heads from the plant, and not the dead wood or branches from the bush.  

“You have a stem and then there’s a rose on it,” Tangney said. “You’re going to trim it down to the fifth leaf and you’re going to trim it at an angle. That will help that next rose to sprout.” 

The garden is set to have a new addition as well. Perry, who also works at Ascarate Park’s vegetable garden, is excited for the produce that’s coming to the El Paso Municipal Rose Garden.

“We’re going to put in our tomatoes next week, March 15,” Perry said. “Lots of good things happen in here in the springtime.” 

The El Paso Municipal Rose Garden will be open daily to the public 8 a.m.– 6 p.m., until Nov. 30. It is located on the corner of Aurora Avenue and Copia Street. 

Visitors will be required to follow health and safety COVID-19 guidelines that include wearing a face covering and maintain social distance. In addition, the Parks and Recreation Department has added signs and hand sanitizer dispensers in the outdoor facility for public use. 

Andrea Valdez-Rivas may be contacted at [email protected]; @AndreaVRNews on Twitter.