The Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group continued to have wonderful, spring weather last Wednesday. It was a little cool and the group assembled in the sun, to the left of the Exedra vase, but assemble they did. There were 37 walkers and three K-9 best friends on hand.
The group was reminded that for their next walk on May 18th Piedmont planner, urban designer, and architect Will Adams will conduct a special walking tour of historical, Albert Farr-designed, Piedmont structures. Albert L. Farr was an American architect, who during the first decades of Piedmont’s development, designed homes and some of Piedmont’s most prominent buildings, including the City Hall, Commercial Center, and Piedmont Community Center.
It was the first Wednesday after Mother’s Day, so flowers were fresh on the walkers’ minds; and roses seemed like an especially appropriate focus for the day’s walk. Happily, there is a nearby destination that would provide a bountiful collection of them for the group to enjoy. The Morcom Rose Garden is located at 700 Jean Street in Oakland, just across Grand Avenue and the Piedmont border. The walkers hadn’t visited the garden for over a year. This is a wonderful time of the year to see the roses, so the garden was selected as the morning’s destination.
The walkers took a direct route to the garden down Magnolia and Wildwood Avenues. Along the way the group was given a preview of the beauty they were going to see at the rose garden. Many of the front yards had blooming roses of their own. There was also other floral beauty, some of which was new and unknown to the walkers. One bed of small, low, yellow flowers raised curiosities. No one knew its name, so Kat Lang proclaimed it to be the “Yellow Ball Flower.” No one knew any better, and so it was.
The walkers came to Grand Avenue, crossed it going into Oakland, and went up Jean Street to the entrance of the Morcom Rose Garden. Wikipedia had provided some history and information on the garden that was shared with the group.
The garden is in a natural bowl on a 7.5 acre site that was purchased by the City of Oakland in 1915 and named the Linda Vista Park. Its conversion to a rose garden was a project of the Oakland Businessmen's Garden Club in 1930 with the support of the city government.
The garden has over 2,400 rose bushes, winding walkways, a reflecting pool, and a cascading fountain. The design is by Arthur Cobbledick, a member of the Garden Club, who laid out a formal plan inspired by the gardens of Italy. The garden has three sections. The Jean Street entrance has a classical, curved colonnade, backed by stone walls, and a rose-lined walkway, flanked by a small service building. The middle section features a reflecting pool encircled by rose beds and an elegant 14-step cascade down the hillside to the west. Above the cascade is an octagonal wedding terrace in stone and more rose beds. Facing the pool and cascade from the east is a Mediterranean style loggia, which serves as an office and storage space. A large Florentine oval garden at the north end has terraced flower beds rising on all sides, held in place by elegant rock walls. Access is possible from every direction by stone stairways, and paths make their way among the trees above the garden.
Work was begun on the garden in 1931 or 1932 and it officially opened in 1934 with only the Florentine oval garden finished by that time. In spring 1935 the Oakland Tribune was reporting that laborers were still at work on the cascade. Presumably, work finished in 1935. The New Deal played a vital role in building the rose garden, but it was not the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that did the work. Instead, help came from the State Employment Relief Administration (SERA).
The name of the garden was changed in 1954 to honor former Oakland Mayor Fred Morcom, who was mayor from 1931 to 1933 when the garden was built. The park has been refurbished at least twice, in the 1950s and 1990s, with many of the old roses, some going back to the 19th century, being regrafted on new rootstock.
The group entered the garden, walking up the main path to the reflecting pool, admiring the many, different roses that were in full bloom. A renovation in the early 2000s created "The Mother's Walk," from the reflecting pool to the Florentine garden, with brass plaques in the ground with the names of women honored each year in an annual ceremony for Mother’s Day.
In the early 2000s, a group of volunteers was organized that is called the "Dedicated Deadheaders." Given the greatly reduced hours of city staff available to maintain the irrigation lines, weed, and deadhead and prune the roses, the Deadheaders were established to maintain the garden and keep it beautiful. They work every Wednesday from 10 AM to 2 PM, so there were at least a half dozen members of the group working away. The Deadheaders have a website, www.FriendsofOaklandRose.org, with information on ways to volunteer.
Signs along the way warned not to “feed, approach, or harass wildlife,” and that the park has “many animals including turkeys who are territorial and can be aggressive if they feel threatened." But no wild beasts were seen. Walkers splintered off on the paths, going to see different sections of the garden.
Taking the steps up to the octagonal wedding terrace provided a lovely view of the surrounding sea of roses. Continuing on provided an unusual, additional site. On the south border of the garden, near the Jean Street entrance, is a neighbor’s chicken coop. Some walkers remembered it from a past visit, and it was still there with hens and a rooster to also be seen.
As the group reassembled at the Jean Street entrance for the walk back to the Community Hall, Nancy DeRoche shouted that a turkey was coming down the hill on the right inside the garden entrance. There he was, a large tom turkey with a couple of hens following. The walkers were leaving and that seemed to suit him just fine.
The group took a different route back, staying on Wildwood Avenue all the way past Wildwood School, where the children were noisily enjoying lunch, for a walk through Piedmont Park to the Community Hall. The park was wonderful, as always, but there were absolutely no roses to be enjoyed along the way.