Phelps Grove Roses

A most unique Rose Garden
has for a great many years been a bright and felicitous presence in Springfield, Missouri.
      Nearly all public rose gardens feature hybrid tea roses, but the Phelps Grove Park Rose Garden, a project of the Springfield-Greene County Parks Department, displays some 100 roses that while showing a few hybrid teas displays a great many more shrub, miniature, and other lower-maintenance roses.
      Believed to date back to the park's creation as a CCC project in the 1930's, the Garden was tended by one person, Ruth Smelser, a commercial photographer who began maintaining and improving it in 1992.
      Beyond displaying beautiful roses, the Rose Garden has provided visitors an absolutely unique opportunity to see and learn about a great many types and varieties that are more versatile in the garden and landscape and, in addition, easier to care for.
      The Rose Garden today is on the path to recovery. Several years ago it was attacked by the devastating rose disease Rose Rosette, the always-fatal malady caused by a virus or virus-like organism carried by mites. Tragically, the disease destroyed virtually all of the garden's roses. Rather than throw in the towel, Ruth met the catastrophe by planting colorful reseeding annuals. The results were excellent, and the garden still attracts a good many visitors. The goal, of course, is to fully restore it when it is finally safe to replant the roses.
      Ruth recently retired and no longer shepherds the garden. Instead, it is now cared for by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board.
      Fortunately, all of the photos here were taken when the Phelps Grove Rose Garden was at its peak, quite some time before the advent of the disease. They therefore can continue to serve as a guide to these very special roses.

A Very Big, But Very Rewarding, Job

Tending and the garden was Ruth Smelser's job for 23 years. She said that and at
its peak  keeping its more than 100 rose plants and many other annuals and perennials healthy and beautiful took her about 15-20 hours a week, but, she added, it made her happy.

The Entryway

A rustic, handcrafted sign greets visitors to this remarkable garden. This is the main entrance, which leads visitors in from the park and is on the garden's west side..


And at the base of the sign, a beautiful Clematis we think is most likely the variety, 'The President'.


The east entrance to the garden is framed by an antique arbor, through which Ruth can be seen surveying the roses. She says the effect she most strives for in the design of the Rose Garden is "Serendipity,"adding. "I hope that that as visitors walk through the garden they'll repeatedly be surprised.

The South Entrance

The south entrance to the garden features an attractive brick entryway and hedge.

Glory in the Morning

From the west entrance the view looking out on Phelps Grove Park is beautifully framed by morning glories growing lushly along the arbor.

An Invitation

The south entrance view of the garden is especially appealing when the roses are coming into bloom.

A Catmint Walk

The plant commonly called Catmint (Nepeta species) with its silvery foliage and lovely lavender-blue flowers makes a wonderfully inviting border along the walk. A perennial, Catmint grows vigorously in the Ozarks into a beautifully symmetrical mound only a foot or so high, which makes it ideal for edging or low hedges.

Bishop's Weed
Another highly effective border plant is Bishop's Weed (Aegopodium podagraria), which brings to the garden variegated leaves and bright white flowers.
Other common names include Snow-on-the-Mountain and Goutweed. Vigorous and fast-growing, it thrives in sun or deep shade and even in very poor soils. Note: This plant does spread so rapidly that it's been labeled a noxious weed by some states and many gardeners avoid it altogether. 

A Purple Hyacinth Bean

In the late summer, the east entryway arbor supports an unusually healthy growth of Purple Hyacinth Bean (Lablab purpurea), here showing a bumper crop of its shiny seedpods.

Two Gardens in One

The Rose Garden can be said to be two gardens in one. Here is a view from the roses area down the pathway to the "back garden", which contains some large and quite remarkable island beds.

Another Beautiful Border Plant

Along the pathway leading to the island beds are these wonderful flowers so poetically christened "Love-in-a-Mist." Their common name is Persian Jewels and their botanical name Nigella damascena. As an annual it must be replanted every year, but it's easy to grow and thrives beautifully in our region.

Persian Jewels Up Close

A closer view of the Persian Jewel border makes the name "Love-In-a-Mist' perfectly understandable, no?

A White Highlight

Also near the island beds is one of the plants Ruth adds to complement the roses, an unusually beautiful white Hollihock.

The Island Beds

The island beds in the Phelps Grove Rose Garden are in our opinion models of beautiful island bed design, as in this circular bed on the verge of bursting into bloom in May.  We'll be showing you more of these lovely beds, but first, let's look at the garden's main subject--its marvelous collection of uniquely distinctive roses.

Focusing on the Roses

We can't think of a more beautifully designed rose garden than this one n Phelps Grove Park. Ruth has beautifully blended a diversity of plants for most interesting mix of color, shape, texture. Note also the wonderful use of blue Russian Sage along the perimeter, a perfect background for virtually all of the roses.


'Be-Bop' is a marvelous, eye-grabbing shrub rose that from spring to frost bears huge clusters of large, 3-inch-wide single red flowers with cheery yellow centers. The flowers are lightly fragrant. The plant grows to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide and is ideal in the garden or planted en masse in the landscape.


'Bonica' is a very special rose indeed. Named an All-America Rose in 1987, it was subsequently voted the World's Favorite Rose in 1997 by the World Federation of Rose Societies. 'Bonica' bears large sprays of mildly fragrant pink flowers on dark green foliage all season long. This bushy rose can grow 4-8 feet tall. Note: The flowers are said to be edible.

'Brilliant Pink Iceberg'

'Brilliant Pink Iceberg' is a floribunda rose with dark green foliage and clusters of beautiful, deep-pink semi-double flowers from spring to frost. The blossoms are mildly fragrant and their color deepens in cooler weather. Great for mass plantings, borders, and hedges, grows upright, bushy, and rounded and can reach 3 1/2 feet tall and as wide

'Captain Harry Stebbings'

'Captain Harry Stebbings' is a hybrid tea rose much admired for its highly fragrant, deep-pink blossoms, its upright growth to a height of 6 feet, and excellent disease resistance.

'Carefree Deilght'
carefree.jpg'Carefree Delight' is one of the beautiful Carefree shrub roses developed by the French company Meilland. Everblooming, it gives any garden or landscape charming color from spring to fall and is outstanding when planted en masse.. The carmine-pink-and-white flowers are tiny, only an inch and a half wide, but abundant in clusters. The plant grows quickly to 3 feet tall by 3-4 feet wide. In 1965 it won an All-American Rose Society Award.

'Carefree Delight' Up Close

This closer view of 'Carefree Delight' better reveals its subtle "blushing" coloration.

'Carefree Sunshine'

Another of the Carefree series of superb landscaping roses, 'Carefree Sunshine' features bright lemon-yellow flowers with orange stamens from early spring till frost. The flowers are fragrant and also make excellent cut flowers. The plant can grow to 4 feet tall and as wide. As you can see, the plant is beautiful even when in bud. 

'Carefree Sunshine' Up Close

This closer look at the open flowers of 'Carefree Sunshine' reveals the semidouble petals and vivid orange stamens.

'Carefree Wonder'

Yet another in the Carefree series of outstanding shrub roses, 'Carefree Wonder' boasts bright pink-and-white flowers with a white eye. Like others in the series it blooms throughout the season and is especially effective planted en masse. The flowers are lightly fragrant. The plant can grow to 4 feet tall with a similar spread. An All-American Rose Selection Award winner in 1991.


'Cherish' is a favorite of a good many gardeners as a floribunda rose that  produces beautiful, perfectly formed, shell-pink flowers all season long. The blossoms have a slight spicy scent. The plant is compact and symmetrical and grows to 4 feet in height. A superb choice for any garden.

'Color Magic'

'Color Magic' is said to be one of the tallest of all hybrid tea roses, in some situations growing as tall as 6-8 feet. Its lovely pink flowers will undergo some color changes during the season depending on heat and light. The blossoms have a rich, fruity fragrance and are borne on long, straight stems, which make them ideal as cut flowers.

'Dolly Parton'

The 'Dolly Parton' rose is a vigorous, bushy hybrid tea rose that bears flowers as striking as its namesake. It blooms in repeated flushes from May until frost with an abundance of large, extremely fragrant, vivid orange-red blossoms. The plant grows to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

'Flower Carpet Red'
'Flower Carpet Red' boasts the richest red in the popular Flower Carpet series of landscaping roses. The plant can reach 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide and produces masses of gorgeous, velvety. deep-red single flowers with bright yellow stamens. It can bloom for up to 10 months of the year and has great disease resistance. A superb rose in the garden or planted en masse as a ground cover.'

'Fuchsia Meilland'

'Fuchsia Meilland' is a shrub rose that bears a great profusion of saucer-like mauve pink flowers throughout the season. Because it grows into a mound 2 feet high and 4 feet wide, it makes an superb groundcover as well as an engaging garden plant. Bonus: It's also highly disease-resistant.

'Gene Boerner'

The 'Gene Boerner' floribunda rose is a favorite with many gardeners for its abundance of medium pink, slightly fragrant flowers all season long. Often described as "super vigorous," the plant grows to 4 feet tall and is excellent for borders, hedges, and mass plantings. Note: 'Gene Boerner' is named for a famed Jackson & Perkins hybridizer who developed some 60 floribunda roses in his lifetime, 11 of which received given All-America Rose Selections awards. 

'Graham Thomas'
graham-thomas-question.jpgIn 2009 the 'Graham Thomas' rose received the voted award as the World's Favourite Rose by the World Federation of Rose Societies, which represents 41 member countries. Considered a medium shrub or short climbing English rose, 'Graham Thomas' is bred by David Austin Roses and named after famed rosarian Graham Stuart Thomas. The plant is very hardy and a repeat bloomer, and the flowers have a strong tea fragrance.

Home Run

The Home Run Rose is a real winner in the garden or landscape, bearing a profusion of richly flame-red single flowers with cheery yellow centers all through the season. It also has excellent resistance to blackspot. and total resistance to mildew. This shrub rose grows 3-4 feet tall and as wide. Introduced in 2006 by Weeks Roses, Home Run is descended from the Knock Out rose, 'Baby Love', and the 'City of San Francisco' rose. 


'Iceberg' is often referred to by gardeners and garden writers as  "the best white rose of all time." This floribunda rose grows into a mounding shrub 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide and is covered throughout the season with pure-white double flowers with a distinct honey fragrance, making it superb for beds, borders, hedges, or mass landscape plantings. Bonus: 'Iceberg' is also available as a climbing rose, in which form it's been known to reach 30 feet in length.

'Lady Elsie May'

'Lady Elsie May' is truly prized by a great many gardeners for its uniquely lovely and delicate semi-double and double coral-pink flowers and rich, glossy-green foliage.The plant is a repeat bloomer, grows upright to 3-5 feet tall and 2 feet wide, and excellent disease resistance. In 2005, 'Lady Elsie May' won an All-American Rose Selection Award.

'Lavender Simplicity'

'Lavender Simplicity' is one of the 'Simplicity' series of roses called hedge roses that were developed to provide 4-5-foot tall walls of color. These roses are known for their vigor, disease resistance, and clusters of beautiful flowers all summer long. 'Lavender Simplicity' stands out especially for its rich, orange-blossom fragrance. The series also includes yellow, pink, and white roses.

'Memorial Day'

'Memorial Day' is a hybrid tea rose of real distinction. An All-America Rose Selection in 2004, it features very large, full blossoms with more than 50 petals, unusually long cutting stems, and rich green foliage. The flower is almost singularly fragrant and the color a beautiful pink touched with lavender. The plant grows upright to 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, and disease resistance is very good.

'Morden Fireglow'

'Morden Fireglow' is an exceptionally compact shrub rose with very fragrant red-orange flowers all season long. It grows vigorously to 1 1/2-3 feet tall by 2-3 feet wide and is ideal for beds, borders, and containers.

'Mr. Lincoln'

'Mr. Lincoln' is a hybrid tea rose believed by many to be "the best red rose" for its rich, leathery green foliage; large, velvety, dark-red blossoms; and intense fragrance. The blooms can be 6 inches in diameter and the plant 6 feet or more tall. An All-America Rose Selection in 1965, 'Mr. Lincoln' continues to win devotees. An extremely vigorous grower, it's of course best suited for the back of the rose bed.

'Nearly Wild'

'Nearly Wild' is a newly developed floribunda shrub rose with the beloved "wild rose" look so desired today. Growing 2-3 feet tall, it bears large clusters of fragrant single pink roses all season long. Ideal for borders, containers, barriers, and mass plantings, this rose also attracts butterflies and is excellent for cut flowers.


'Nicole' is an exceptionally beautiful bicolor floribunda rose with semi-double flowers that are basically white with blushes of color that may range from pale pink to red. The blossoms appear in large clusters in summer and autumn. The plant grows 2-3 feet tall with a similar spread. It is susceptible to disease, especially in humid areas like the Ozarks, and may require some care


One of the relatively few hybrid tea roses in the garden, 'Paradise' was an All-America Rose Selection in 1979, and for good reason. Gardeners love it for its exceptional vigor, prolific blooming, and the beauty of its almost-bicolor blossoms. A winner in any garden, this rose is also known as 'Burning Sky' and 'Passion'.


'Piñata' is a marvelous, vigorous rose that blooms continually, producing a great abundance of 3-inch double blossoms that mix many hues of orange and yellow. (The coloration is often compared to that of 'Joseph's Coat', but 'Piñata' produces a great  many more blossoms.) The plant can reach 6-9 feet tall with a 6-foot spread, making it ideal for growing on fences, arbors, or trellises; in fact, it's often sold as a climbing rose named "Climbing Piñata."

A Pink Miniature

This pink miniature rose wasn't labeled, but we have to include it because, well, isn't it obvious?

'Proud Land'

'Proud Land' is a vigorous hybrid tea rose that produces clusters of very showy, extra-double (meaning extra petals) fragrant red flowers. The plant grows as an upright shrub and can reach 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. If deadheaded promptly it can produce more than one flush of bloom.

'Ruby Magic'

'Ruby Magic is an engaging miniature rose that produces lightly fragrant, double, medium-red flowers and attractive, glossy green foliage. The plant grows to 18 inches high with a 2-foot spread. It's charming, to be sure, but is also said to be subject to many diseases and therefore rather high maintenance.

A Rugosa Rose
a-rugosa-rose-jpg.jpgRugosa Roses (Rosa rugosa) are shrub roses native to Asia that bear single flowers ranging in color from pink to red. Rugged and virtually indestructible, they hybridize readily and are prized for their vigor and extreme disease-resistance. Cultivar flower colors can range from white to dark purple. The plant grows 4-6 feet tall and as wide. As it's a suckering shrub, it spreads quickly enough to be labeled invasive in some regions.


'Scentimental' is a floribunda rose that bears clusters of exceptionally beautiful and highly fragrant variegated blossoms. Highly resistant to disease and vigorous even in high heat and humidity, it grows to 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. A star plant in any garden, it was honored as an All American Rose Selection in 1997.'


'Sunsprite' is a highly popular floribunda rose that bears a profusion of bright yellow double, ruffled flowers all season long from spring to frost. The plant is compact and grows upright to about 3 feet tall and as wide. Borne in clusters, the blossoms have an intense, sweetly spicy fragrance.


Unfortunately we're unable to find any information on the rose variety 'Tennessee'. All we can say is that it appears to be a shrub rose and we love its pale pink flower and muted green foliage. Note: We'll continue looking for the story on this rose, and you have any information on 'Tennessee', please help us out.

'Touch of Class'

'Touch of Class' is a hybrid tea rose considered a classic for its lovely, large coral pink flowers and graceful, dark green foliage. The plant has a beautiful vase shape, can reach 6 feet tall, and blooms from spring to frost. The flowers are 5-7 inches wide with long stems, making it a favorite of exhibitors.

Unknown, But Nice

Another unlabeled rose we couldn't help including because of its sheer beauty.

Another Unlabeled Beauty

Once more we have to include a rose missing its label. This one won us over big time for the pale pink of its blossoms.


'Voodoo' is a marvelous multicolored  hybrid tea rose whose flowers may mix yellow, peach, apricot, salmon, pink, and red. The double blossoms are large, some 6 inches in diameter, beautifully shaped, and moderately fragrant. The plant grows upright and bushy and can reach 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide. 

A Wet White Miniature

We've no idea of the varietal name for this miniature rose, but we'll try to find out. We just couldn't resist the shape of the blossoms and the water from the drip irrigator. As for the loss of some detail in the white petals, Ruth, a professional photographer, explains to us it's caused by the glare from direct sun on white.

'Wild Thing'

'Wild Thing' is a shrub rose often described as "spectacular" and "breathtaking." It blooms in flushes throughout the season with an amazing abundance of very striking coral pink flowers with yellow centers and white throats. It grows to 4 feet tall and as wide and disease resistance is good, making it a marvelous rose in beds, borders, or the landscape.

The Path to the Beds

This path leads from the Roses to the garden's west section and the beautifrul island beds. 

The Northernmost Bed

This photo shows the garden's paved patio and planters, and beyond, at its extreme north end, an island bed showcasing some outstanding ornamental grasses chosen to provide a nice diversity in color, size, and texture.

Bronze Fennel
bronze-fennel-jpg.jpgTo provide even more color and life to the garden, Ruth has added some distinctive plants about the patio and in the planters. This is the Bronze Fennel shown in the previous picture. Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a real prize in the garden for its unusual color and for its flavor--yes, it has the same licorice flavor as green fennels. It's also a host plant for the Anise Swallowtail and Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies. Grow it as an annual in the Ozarks. 

Plumed Celosia

This photo shows a little more of the patio and its planters and, in the foreground, a beautiful red Celosia (Celosia argentea)), its base surrunded by 'Autumn Joy' Sedum. Sometimes called Coxcomb, Feather Celosia, and Feathered Amaranth, Celosia is an annual that thrives beautifully in the Ozarks, where it can grow as tall as 4 feet..  


Another outstanding plant in the garden is white Nicotiana (Nicotiana alata), an old-fashioned favorite annual that brings a light and cheery note to any garden or landscape. Happily, it reseeds freely, and Ruth has let it do so in the Rose Garden. Nicotiana is extremely easy to grow and can reach as tall as 5 feet, adding yet another dimension to the garden.

A Lovely Island Bed

Let's begin our closer look at the garden's island beds with this, one of the most beautiful. Ruth says she likes a diversity of plants as well as vivid color. To both ends, she makes good use of such plants as cardoon, coneflowers, sedum, lilies, yarrow, globe thistles, canna lilies, and more.

Coneflowers and Cardoon
coneflower-and-cardoon-jpg.jpgA gorgeous combination--Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). The Coneflower is a Missouri native plant and the Cardoon, a thistle-like plant that's actually a member of the Aster family, brings brilliant blue color and the boldest texture to any garden. Note: The flower buds, stems, and leaf stems of Cardoon are edible and considered a great delicacy in some parts of the world.

A Cardoon Closeup

This closer look at the beautiful Cardoon flower reveals the marvelous contrast between its delicate  flower and rugged, spiny buds. 

Bold and Yellow
This bright, showy yellow flower we think is Centaurea macrocephala, or Globe Centaurea, a perennial which in full sun bears a profusion of flowers from midsummer into early fall. It can grow to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide and reseeds freely. The flowers, which attract butterflies, also make outstanding cut flowers. Other common names: Yellow Hardhat and Armenian Basket Flower.

A Study in Textures

We can't imagine a better model for illustrating garden textures than this smaller island bed, whch Ruth has  filled with attractive ornamental grasses.

A Corner Bed

We like this island bed in the corner of the garden for its blend of eye appeal and excellent use of a space that might otherwise be wasted.

The Calm

Visitors to the Rose Garden will find the island bed section unusually cool, quiet, and calming.

Looking Back to the Roses

From the island bed part of the garden, the view back toward the rose section of the garden seems especially inviting.

The Sunflower That Ate Seattle
the-sunflower-that-ate-seattle.jpgForgive us our little joke, but we had to do it--it's an enormous, wonderful sunflower that seemed to have outgrown the planet. We guessed its height-before-crashing to be 10-12 feet, and happening upon it without warning was a real exercise in experiencing Ruth's main goal for the garden--serendipity.

We hope you've enjoyed visiting the Phelps Grove Rose Garden and that if you're in the Springfield, Missouri, area or visiting, you'll take the opportunity to see the garden in person in 2015.

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