Nature's Helping Hands

Posted on Thu., Jan. 20, 2011 by Lisa Blackburn
Rose Garden volunteers pause for a quick group portrait before getting back to business
Rose Garden volunteers pause for a quick group portrait before getting back to business. From left: Kathy Cooper, Nora Romo, James Drummond, Marlane Forsberg, Vicente Perez (staff), Gena Coffey, Patti Yates, and Margo Drummond.

Under a brilliant blue sky one recent morning, a group of volunteers donned their sun hats, pulled on sturdy gloves, and took up their secateurs to tackle one of the thorniest jobs at The Huntington: pruning more than 3,500 rose bushes. Each January, nearly a dozen Rose Garden volunteers turn out in force for this month-long marathon of snipping, lopping, and shaping, working alongside Clair Martin, the Ruth B. and E. L. Shannon Curator of the Rose Garden and Perennial Gardens, and gardener Vicente Perez.

"Pruning this many roses is a team effort," says Martin, who has overseen this garden since 1983. "We couldn't manage to do it as efficiently without our dedicated volunteers."

The three-acre Rose Garden was originally established in 1908 for the enjoyment of Henry and Arabella Huntington. Today it delights a much wider audience of nearly half a million visitors each year and ranks consistently as one of the most popular attractions at The Huntington. It's easy to see why: the garden's springtime splendor is hard to beat. But for those with more than just a passing fancy for flowers, the Rose Garden is also rich in horticultural history. Walking along its paths and pergolas, visitors can trace the development of the rose from ancient to modern times through the display of some 1,200 different cultivars. The oldest rose grown at The Huntington, 'Autumn Damask,' is a variety that dates back to the 1st century B.C.

Slowly and methodically, the volunteers tend to their charges, working their way through a total of 40 beds. Why do they do it? Most would say it's because they simply love roses. Many of these same rose fanciers also serve as garden docents, sharing their knowledge and passion for roses with Huntington visitors throughout the year.

A view of the garden showing beds of neatly pruned shrubs
A view of the garden showing beds of neatly pruned shrubs. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Pruning 3,500 roses is a lot of work. But when April comes around, winter's labor will be repaid with spring's breathtaking display, and volunteers can bask in secret pride at the seemingly "effortless" beauty of nature's handiwork.

A view of the garden in spring, around late April.
The same view as it will look in spring, around late April. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Interested in becoming a Rose Garden volunteer? Contact the Volunteer Programs office at 626-405-2126 or e-mail

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.