In the popular 2000 film “The American President”, president Andrew Shepherd played by Michael Douglas experienced significant difficulty in obtaining a dozen roses for his love interest played by Annette Bening. It wasn’t until he discovered that the White House had its own rose garden that he was successful in providing the roses.
Well, just like the White House, we also have a rose garden here at Little Flower parish that has been part of our community since early 1992. While I knew about the garden before I came to the parish a year ago May, I didn’t have an appreciation for the effort it took to make the garden a reality. Last week I had the opportunity to take a few minutes and go through two large scrapbooks compiled by Jean Rosenberg, which detailed the history of “The Little Flower Garden Club” which was established on June 5th 1990. It was out of this parish wide effort that the Rose Garden would come into existence in early 1992.
The adventure to landscape the parish grounds began in earnest with eighteen parishioners and their families. This group grew in size and capability as the project began to take shape. First they formulated a plan to revitalize the courtyard of the parish elementary school. This successful project allowed the group to begin work on outside areas of the parish grounds. The Garden club then embarked on a phased plan which included significant landscaping, and focused on the land between the school and the church structure. Volunteers and parishioners routinely referred to this area as the “Little Flower desert”. The scrapbooks document the progress made by parish volunteers in bringing their vision to reality.
The Little Flower Garden Club would begin significant actions to achieve its goal of having a Rose Garden in late February 1992 by clearing and preparing the land area identified for the Rose Garden. This “dream project”, as it was called, would become reality when Mrs. Melba Barry, after reading an article in the Florida Catholic, made a sizable donation to begin the project. Detailed plans were finalized, heavy equipment brought in, and a sidewalk poured to frame the area identified as the Rose Garden. The rose beds were dug during March and April 1992. This was a significant undertaking involving not only digging by a large number of volunteers but also introducing sand, mulch and compost as part of the mix. The revenues needed to purchase the materials and the volunteer hours that went into preparing the garden were provided entirely by the parish garden club members with associated friends and volunteers.
Once the beds were in place the irrigation system and the walkways, needed to allow people to experience the garden, were constructed. The site was taking shape and on May 9th 1992 miniature roses were planted for Mother’s Day of that year. The work of setting timbers for the garden beds, an agony of sorts for those working on the project, would continue at a feverish pace over the next few days and on May 13th,, 1992 some 58 rose bushes were delivered to the parish community for planting. On May 20th, 1992 the Little Flower School students and faculty would assemble for the first May crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the rose garden. This long-standing tradition has continued even to the present day.
It didn’t take long for the garden club to get involved in local flower shows and to share what they were doing with a larger group of people. As early as October 1992 the parish garden club was well on its way as it participated in the Pensacola Interstate Fair, bringing home ribbons recognizing the quality of the roses produced. The tradition of participating and competing annually in many of the garden shows in our area continues as Jean Rosenberg and a small group of helpers work hard to achieve success at the highest levels.
If you stop by the Little Flower Rose garden any day after the 8:15AM Mass chances are you will find Jean Rosenberg and Robert Burke (known around these parts as COACH) among the roses performing the daily care they require. It has been a daily chore for a long time for these two as both of them were original founding members of the parish garden club. Coach said “ he has been active in the rose garden from the very beginning and now it just seems to be a part of me and my daily routine”. Jean told me about the daily process required of insuring that roses that are in decline are removed from the bush. Both were quick to point out that the garden needs regular fertilization and requires some of the same hard work that was needed when the project began in 1991.
Jean and Robert said their goal is that more people discover the rose garden and get involved in its upkeep and experience the joy they experienced while working to establish the garden club at Little Flower parish. For a long time, Jean said, this little garden and the people who worked to keep it up was the center of many parish activities and social gatherings. “It was part of our identity back then”, Jean said.
If you have time, take a walk through the rose garden and possibly recite a walking rosary as you work your way around the garden and even consider becoming a part of this continuing project. All the funds necessary for the construction and maintenance of the garden have been procured by donations and are actually set apart from general parish funds for that purpose. Jean Rosenberg who is the scribe, treasurer and chief worker can provide any interested folks with information on how to get involved. Jean can be reached at (850) 453-2769.