Sometimes all that remains from a home is a rosebush. Look for them in vacant lots or fields and maybe you will find the outline of a foundation, the memory that someone cared for and cultivated these flowers.
That care has made the summer streets of New York a sensory journey if you take the time for it. In front yards by brownstones, peeking through wrought iron fences, climbing trellises against apartment buildings, and in community gardens, the roses are opening, each inviting a pause. Some are a powdery pink, others have dashes of red on white as if painted for the Queen of Hearts. Some have the deep, heady fragrances that put bodega bouquets—bred for their shape and hardiness—to shame. Others might suggest a whiff of brewed tea or squeezed lemons. There are antique roses that date back to the 19th century, possibly planted when the first residents moved in; there are flashy new varieties developed to fade their colors from yellow to red like a sunset. There are hundreds of hybrids, nurtured over centuries, for every taste and garden. They are waiting for you to meet them.
Stop before a flower that catches your eye—watch out for bees and please don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk, there are people too busy for roses right now. Look at the colors, bring your nose in close, try not to disturb the velvet petals, and mind the thorns. Appreciate the care that has allowed it to bloom for another summer.
- Visit the Heritage Rose District of New York City, the country’s only rose district, in Manhattan between West 122nd and West 163rd streets. Its plantings to preserve old roses include Trinity Cemetery where in 2009 a Harison’s Yellow was planted at the grave of George Folliott Harison, who grew the first yellow rose created in the US.
- New Yorkers whose names grace rose cultivars include groundbreaking physician and toxicologist Alice Hamilton, chanteuse Barbara Joan Streisand (“Just one big shapely blossom can nearly overpower you with strong sweet scent”), cigar-chomping George Burns, Walter Cronkite (a classic red dubbed the “Uncle Walter"), and the Divine Miss M, Bette Midler (a lush, creamy beauty). There undoubtedly should be a rose named after one-time NYC resident Emily West, a free Black woman who inspired “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”
- Don’t just stop and smell the roses… taste them. Our city is a garden of culinary delights. Try a rose-scented pastry or rose petal milk tea, keep your fingers crossed for a lychee rose ice cream scoop or a donut scattered in rose petals and pistachios. Find a park bench upon which to savor your newly acquired floral comestible. Take care, for your emanating radiance may attract bees.