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Calling All Gardeners

Volunteers needed to tend Back Bay Fens’ Kelleher Rose Garden

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The 2,000 plants in the James P. Kelleher Rose Garden in the Back Bay Fens are cared for by volunteers each Tuesday evening throughout the summer. Photo courtesy of the James P. Kelleher Rose Garden

Tucked away in the 57-acre parkland known as the Back Bay Fens is the James P. Kelleher Rose Garden, featuring more than 2,000 plants and over 100 varieties of climbers, hybrid teas, and floribundas. As any experienced gardener will tell you, roses require a lot of care—constant feeding, pruning, and watering—to remain vibrant. In an effort to make sure the roses get the care they need, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, the nonprofit organization responsible for overseeing the garden, is hosting Tuesday with Roses, a weekly event that recruits volunteers to help maintain the garden. The program runs through August 12, and volunteers are asked to sign up in advance.

The Back Bay Fens—a saltwater marsh until the damming of the Charles River in 1910—was designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to serve as a link in his Emerald Necklace park system, which stretches from Back Bay to Dorchester. A formal rose garden opposite the Museum of Fine Arts was added in 1930. By the 1990s, the garden—named the James P. Kelleher Rose Garden in 1975 in honor of the Boston Parks & Recreation Department’s then-superintendent of horticulture—had fallen into disrepair. The Emerald Necklace Conservancy, working with the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, restored the rose garden in 2008. Today, the keyhole-shaped garden is known by locals as one of the city’s most beautiful horticultural gems. But staff rely on volunteers to help maintain the labor-intensive roses—hence the creation of the Tuesday program.

Volunteers need not be experienced gardeners. Supervisors from the Emerald Necklace Conservancy will be on hand to give instructions and talk about everything from rose pruning techniques to safety measures. Gloves, clippers, and other tools are provided, so it’s not necessary to bring any garden tools with you. Volunteers are, however, urged to bring water, sunscreen, and mosquito repellant, and are advised to wear long pants and closed-toe shoes in order to avoid being pricked by thorns.

So don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty as you pull weeds and prune the roses that surround the statue Desconsol on the south side of the garden (a gift from the city of Barcelona, Spain) or the impressive fountain in the center courtyard. You’ll be helping to maintain one of the city’s most enchanting sites while honing your gardening skills.

Tuesday with Roses takes place each Tuesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. through August 12 at the James P. Kelleher Rose Garden, located across from the Museum of Fine Arts in the Back Bay Fens at 73 Park Drive. Volunteers are asked to sign up in advance for the day(s) they wish to work.

To get to the rose garden via public transportation, take an MBTA Green Line trolley to Hynes Convention Center, switch to the E trolley outbound, and get off at the Museum of Fine Arts stop. From there, the garden is a 10-minute walk.

Madeline Rae can be reached at mustlove@bu.edu.

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