Agriculture , Central New York , Environment , Feature , Spring 2017

Spring Brings New Life to Roses and Rosarians Alike

Syracuse Rose Society members prep E.M. Mills Rose Garden for its 93rd official year. (c) 2017 Chris Lucey

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Smell The Roses

NCC News Reporter Chris Lucey dropped in on the Syracuse Rose Society getting the E.M. Mills Garden ready for the spring bloom. Find out everything the rosarians told him about raising the perfect roses this spring!

Chris Lucey SYRACUSE, N.Y (NCC News) — Just because Carl Grillo walked away from a 35-year career of saving others as a Syracuse Firefighter, didn’t mean he wanted to stop serving others.

Once Grillo made the decision to step down, he committed to helping the Syracuse Rose Society maintain the E.M. Mills Rose Garden outside of Thornden Park. Grillo exchanged pulling people from burning buildings to pulling weeds from the ground, but says its equally fulfilling to be the society’s lead volunteer.

“I, in general, enjoy being a worker, but they needed somebody to do this,” said Grillo referring to his lead role at the society. “I enjoy working in the garden, working with my hands and it is rewarding to see how beautiful the garden turns out to be.”

The Syracuse Rose Society is comprised of almost three dozen volunteers who maintain the garden. Society members, also called rosarians, gather at the park every Wednesday and work from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., sometimes working similar hours on Saturdays too. Grillo says the society is very understaffed to manage the more than 3,000 rosebushes in the park, but has turned its biggest weakness into one of its strengths.

Jim Whener, 85, climbs ladders as if he’s still at his childhood farm in the 1940’s. (c) Chris Lucey 2017.

That very lack of volunteers is has turned the rose society into a tightly-knit group, which is what brings Jim Whener back every week. Whener, 85, is up bright and early every Wednesday to help pitch in. The work is never easy, but the bond he shares with his fellow society members makes the burden feel quite a bit lighter. 

“It’s all very relaxed, social,” said Whener. Nobody pretends to be something important, we’re all equal.”

It redirects the focus onto why they manage the garden in the first place: “(to) benefit the public,” said Whener, “so they can enjoy the roses.”