The roses in the Laura Conyers Smith Municipal Rose Garden in Loose Park are just starting to burst into bloom, heralding summer’s arrival.
In full flower, the garden is one of the most splendid outdoor settings in all of Kansas City’s parks — a big draw for weddings, community celebrations or just quiet contemplation of nature’s wonder.
Yet while the roses thrive, the garden’s stonework and cedar wood features are showing signs of age and wear. So the Kansas City Rose Society is in the midst of a fund-raising campaign to complete $396,000 in improvements. If all goes as planned, the work could be finished by the end of this year.
It would mark the completion of a project dating back to 2000 to fully restore the garden to its 1930s-era plan by the prestigous landscape architecture firm Hare & Hare. In the past 12 years, the Rose Society has already raised and spent donations of $1.3 million to make the rose garden one of the best in the country.
The fund-raising has been a labor of love for Sandy Campuzano, past president and current rose garden enhancement chair, since the Rose Society first raised money for new walkways and the Italian limestone fountain that became the garden’s centerpiece in 2002.
“I think of this as the easiest sell in the world,” Campuzano said of her fund-raising efforts. “Everyone loves the park, and the garden.”
Since 2002, the rose beds have been completely replanted, more trees and landscaping have been planted, interior gravel pathways have been created to match the original 1931 landscape plan, and new sod and sprinklers have been installed.
With the latest project, part of the work is already slated to begin in mid-June and be finished by the end of the summer. It will involve replacing the cedar woodwork and repairing broken stonework and stairs at the north entryway to the garden, where brides often enter the garden for their weddings.
The work, to be done by Architectural Masonry & Restoration Inc. of Oak Grove, is slated to cost $110,000, which has already been raised.
The north portal will be enclosed with yellow fencing while the work proceeds, but weddings will continue uninterrupted and the area will be cleaned up as much as possible for weekend events, Campuzano said.
Fund-raising is also well underway for the second part of the work, which involves restoration of the 64 stone pillars that encircle the garden, plus replacement of the cedar pergolas atop those pillars.
“They are rotten. There’s no question,” Campuzano said of the pillars and pergolas.
Twenty-six viburnum bushes also will be added in the garden’s northwest quadrant, as represented in the original circular architectural plan. Since 2000, the landscape architecture design has been done by P.J. Novick of the Bowman Bowman Novick firm.
Of the $396,000 needed for this final phase of work, all but about $100,000 has been raised.
The money raised so far has come from more than 80 foundations and individuals, Campuzano said. Major donors have included the William T. Kemper Foundation, the Martha Jane Starr Foundation and the Jean Blackman Foundation.
“For us, it’s been very gratifying,” said Jonathan Kemper, co-trustee of the Kemper Foundation. “This latest phase should complete the restoration and conservation ... The success is due to the great work from the Rose Society and Sandy on making this happen.”
Once the full amount is raised, work on the pillars and pergolas can proceed.
“It would be great to do this fall,” P.J. Novick said.
Since 1931, every rose in the 1.5-acre garden has also been purchased by the Rose Society. What began with 120 rose plants now has nearly 4,000 roses in about 150 varieties, said Arlyn Silvey, Rose Society president.
Every Thursday from May through October, about 20 volunteers turn out to prune and care for the roses, to get ready for the weekend weddings. Loose Park hosts about 300 weddings per year, with half of those occurring in the rose garden.
The Rose Society’s contributions make for one of the best and most enduring partnerships with the parks department, said director Mark McHenry.
“We’re all about partnerships,” he said. “We have limited funds. We can never do as much as we’d like to get done. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were doing this, some of it just wouldn’t get done.”