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SLC used to have one of the largest municipal rose gardens in the country. What happened to it?

Posted at 3:00 PM, Jun 28, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — Seeing as how it is National Rose Month, did you know Salt Lake City used to be home to one of the largest municipal rose garden’s in the entire country?

It's a story that began to blossom nearly a century ago.

Located on the grounds of Holy Cross Hospital on 1100 East and South Temple, the Municipal Rose Garden was established in 1937, growing out of a partnership between the city, the Utah Rose Society and the Salt Lake Exchange Club.

The three-and-half-acre garden was popular among locals, tourists and especially the patients of the hospital who saw it as a place of peace and serenity in the middle of the bustling city.

“More than 6000 rose bushes were planted by the end of the garden,” explained Salt Lake City historian Rachel Quist. “More than 400 varieties from all over the world. Every color imaginable.”

The Beehive State surely made it easy to grow the beautiful flowers.

“Utah is a fabulous place to grow roses,” said Teri Hunter, membership and social media chair for the Utah Rose Society. "We don't have the pests that they have east of the Rockies. We don't have the diseases that they have, and so we have the perfect climate to grow beautiful roses.”

The garden later became a sanctuary for the sisters of Holy Cross, who came to Utah in 1875 to help suffering miners working in Park City mines who were dying of black lung disease.

“So the sisters wanted a place to meditate and enjoy, and have a municipal garden that was peaceful,” Quist added.

Each year, a formal ceremony in the garden was held to signify the payment of the annual rent. The price the city paid to the sisters? One bouquet of roses.

The garden became more than a place of enjoyment, but a symbol of charity as it hosted parties that raise money for patient medical bills.

However, after 36 years, the Municipal Rose Garden was soon to be a place of the past.

“So in 1972, the hospital needed to expand,” Quist explained. “They needed to build a parking lot and Moreau Hall for their nursing students. And so the garden was taken out and those buildings were put in.”

The city and the Rose Society transferred the rose garden to Sugar House Park where it remained until 2020.

“The sisters missed having a rose garden here at the hospital,” Quist said.

As a result, a smaller version of the Holy Cross garden was revived in 1990 as a gift from philanthropist O.C Tanner. But over the years, the garden has fallen in disrepair.

“I think the space is important to the community,” said Ryan McClelan, chief nursing officer for Common Spirit Holy Cross of Salt Lake. “I see people here enjoying the Rose Garden on a daily basis, and I think that to some degree it has been neglected."

The hospital is now partnering with the Utah Rose Society, which has been around for almost 90 years, to bring the garden back to its former glory.

“A big part of the rose society is working with the community,” Hunter said. “I've been working with them on a plan to rejuvenate it and help it to become more beautiful back like it used to be”

For many, like McClelan, the possibility of the garden’s revival is a reminder of the hospital's founding values.

“I think this rose garden is really an outward reflection of kind of an inner commitment of getting back to our roots and being great at what we know we can be great at."