coming up roses
Photograph by DAVE HENDERSON
China Altman’s 21 seasons of public gardening
Walk through Boston’s Public Garden on Tuesday evenings between June and October and you may see its four
rose beds being tended by a band of about 20 gardeners.
Known as the Rose Brigade, the volunteer group (under
the auspices of the Friends of the Public Garden) has been
led since its inception by the unsinkable China Altman. A
journalist with a personality as colorful as the Garden, Altman was an unlikely steward for the collection.
“When I started, I knew nothing about roses,” she
says. She had been among a small cadre of civic-minded
volunteers who picked up trash in the Garden when, in
1982, the city stopped due to budget cuts. Six years later,
when municipal trash pickup resumed, Altman, at the suggestion of an acquaintance in the trash crew, turned her
attention to the Garden’s approximately 250 rosebushes.
After more than 20 years, Altman has learned much
and is considered an unofficial expert in the care of the
city’s roses. “I had not only my own inclination to keep
studying,” she says, “but also I had the roses themselves to
teach me. I’ve loved taking care of them because I’ve loved
seeing how they respond immediately.” And the work, she
adds, is rewarded with their amazing beauty.
However, there have been other rewards. She’s developed great friendships with volunteers in the Brigade. And
she’s found joy in speaking with the passersby that pepper her and the others with questions and offer their many
thank-yous. “As important as our mission is to be guardians
of the roses,” says Altman, “it’s equally important that we
are guardians of the ideal of public-private partnership in
the world.” — ellen c. wells