It’s always good advice to stop and smell the roses.
Once, the garden was a peaceful respite, even used for wedding ceremonies. Now, the public space, bordered by Walnut and Locust Streets, between Fourth and Fifth Streets, is dominated by weeds that have overtaken flower beds and pop up between the bricks in the walkways.
The rose bushes are stunted and tiny, with no evidence of even a faded June bloom.
A sign in all capital letters urges visitors: PLEASE RESPECT THIS SPACE!! IT IS A ROSE BED / IT IS NOT A WALKWAY OR LATRINE … IT IS HOME TO PHILADELPHIA’S ANTIQUE AND ANCIENT ROSES! / PLEASE ALLOW THEM TO RECOVER! THEIR UNIQUE BEAUTY AND FRAGRANCE IS IRREPLACEABLE!
The sign is surrounded by weeds, some several feet high. Nearby, a traffic cone sits askew.
The garden was initially designed to showcase antique roses, some varieties of which date to the 18th century. A preserved cobblestone paving, once the courtyard of a stable, dates to about 1796. Independence Park literature states that the garden includes up to 96 varieties of roses, including the “Old Bush” rose (Chinese Monthly Perpetual) and the green flowered rose (Rosa chinensis viridiflora). Unlike modern hybrids, most bloom only once a year.
Gina Gilliam, a representative for the National Park Service, said the staff has been focused recently on preparation for July Fourth events, which includes a reading Sunday of the Declaration of Independence by a ranger.
It’s not clear how many visitors the garden draws, or if potential budget cuts might be having an impact. A replica of an 18th century garden a block away and also owned by the park service appeared well maintained.
Independence Park is a big attraction, drawing nearly five million people to 45 acres that are the site of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. It had a budget of about $23.8 million for the 2018 fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. The 2019 budget proposal calls for a drop of $2.6 million to $21.2 million.