Neighbors prep Freeman Gardens for beauty

At left, Freeman Gardens directors with the rose garden restoration project in their collective laps, from left, Kandi Deutsch, Steve Zimet, Ali Wecler and Kevin Sherry.

The seventh annual Freeman Gardens “Rake and Bake,” a collective effort by neighbors to prepare the bucolic site for another season, was held Saturday, April 27, and it was startling to behold.

Approaching the site, with the garden gates along Hawthorne Avenue thrown open, everyone could see that the verdant rose plants, expectant of spring, had totally vanished — nothing — and even their beds were emptied of soil.

The site looked like a cemetery awaiting a group burial to arrive and the running joke that day was whether anyone had come to the garden to select their final resting place yet. The cause for the gallows humor was rose rosette disease.

According to an internet search, this disease is incurable and spread by a mite. Because excessive branch development occurs with infected plants, the disease is known as
witches broom. Ali Wecler, a garden director, explained.

“The rose beds have all been dug out,” she said. “They got the disease at the end of last year. We dug out all the plants last week. It will be a big effort to start all over.”
She said the excavation was done by an outside concern, but garden volunteers will fill in new soil.

“The next step is to plant new roses,” she continued. “Horace wouldn’t be happy, but they were old plants, 60 to 70 years old.”

Borough resident Remle Newton Dame in an excavated rose bed

Wecler was referencing Horace Ashenfelter (1928-2013), the former Olympian champion and Glen Ridge resident who tended to the garden for many years. He lived nearby and Hawthorne Avenue has been commemorated as Ashenfelter Way.

Wecler estimated the restoration would be in excess of $10,000. Other garden directors, onhand for the event, agreed. Wecler said she hopes that the four main beds, encircling an urn, would be restored as quickly as possible. The other beds would have to wait.

“We might put some annuals into those beds just to have something until we get the roses,” she said. “But they will remain rose beds. It’s the Freeman Gardens Rose Garden. That’s our goal.”

The soil removed from the rose beds will be used elsewhere at Freeman Gardens because the disease only affects rose plants. New soil to refill several beds was expected to arrive the day of the event.

According to Kevin Sherry, another garden director, more than 100 rose plants were destroyed, but about 25 were saved. They will be sequestered in a bed that was dug out for them on Saturday. It is anticipated they will remain there, for the time being, and, if they survive, returned to the rose beds.

Jen Anderson, at left, and pal Jen Evces came to work.
Ella Anderson, left, and her sister, Nellie, shovel out a small pool