A Visit To The Hershey Rose Gardens
Mention Hershey, Pennsylvania to anyone and they will immediately identify it with chocolate kisses and candy bars, and if they haven't got a sweet tooth, they may think of the gut-wrenching yet exhilarating roller coasters of Hershey Park. Touted as the “sweetest place on earth,” the streets are lined with alternating brown and silver street lights designed to look like chocolate kisses, wrapped in foil and unwrapped. But unless you're a lover of flowers, you probably haven't heard of the Hershey Rose Garden.
Having lived but a few miles from Hershey for most of my life, I was aware of the rose gardens, but like most people who live close to an attraction, I never made time to visit. It was always one of those things that I planned to do one day, but simply didn't have it on my list of priorities. The rose is my favorite flower and has been for as long as I can remember.
I'm especially attracted to the miniature ones and have purchased them for my mother almost every Mother's Day. Every time Mother's Day rolls around, I'm reminded that I still haven't made my trek to the gardens. I make my purchase and then promise myself that this will be the year I'll visit, only to become busy with some project that takes up all my time and before I realize it, the leaves are falling from the trees and I'm pulling out the winter hats and coats.
This year was different. My boyfriend decided it was time I made that visit. He started with little suggestions now and then, which I sort of heard and nodded an absent minded “uh-huh” to. Then he stepped it up to reminiscing about visits he had made so many years ago with his parents. Again, I gave the obligatory nod and mumbled response. I was always just so busy being focused on other things. Finally, he simply said he thought we should go on a particular day the coming week and me being my usual preoccupied self, nodded absentmindedly and went on about my business as usual.
The night before the chosen day, he asked me what time I wanted to leave to go over to the gardens and I realized I'd been had. I didn't want to get up early to go look at some flowers and I surely didn't want to rush around to get there. I picked early afternoon, thinking one or two hours for visiting would be plenty before heading home so I could make dinner. As it turned out, I was terribly wrong, but that comes later.
We arrived at about one in the afternoon and walked along a shaded walk lined with flowers and decorative bushes and grasses. It was very pretty and a nice hint at what may be waiting beyond the admission building. When we stepped up to the window to pay for two adult admissions, I thought my eyes were going to bug out of my head. Without a word, I handed over the $22 fee for the two of us. As we headed around the corner of the building to enter the gardens, I leaned toward Mark and told him quietly I couldn't believe we'd just paid that much money to look at a few flowers. After all, I could walk down any residential street in our neighborhood and look at them for free.
We stepped beyond the tall trees surrounding the admissions building and a whole new world was opened for me. It was breath taking! Those “few” flowers I'd been griping about only seconds before, were spread out before me in a magnificent display of wonder. 5,000 rose bushes of 275 varieties and various colors grew in perfectly placed bed after bed, row after row, all surrounding a gorgeous pond with a fabulous water fountain in the very center.
I stood there awestruck for quite a few moments, my mind furiously trying to figure out how in the world I would see all there was to see in the little bit of time I had allotted. There are over 23 acres providing a home for a marvelous collection of eleven different themed gardens, one of which is a children's garden, in addition to the Butterfly House.
Finally, I simply decided to remain within the central part of the grounds, surrounded by roses. I knew we wouldn't get to see all the other gardens, and wished I had been smart enough to begin my visit earlier so I wouldn't feel as though I had to rush to see everything. As it turned out, I was able to see the perennials garden, the Children's Garden, and the Butterfly House before we finally took our leave almost five hours later.
As one would expect with roses, there's a bit of a romantic story attached to the Hershey Rose Gardens. Milton Hershey and his wife Catherine (Kitty) lived in a mansion they named High Point, appropriately named due to its position on a rise overlooking the Hershey chocolate factory. He was 41 and she was only 26 when they married in 1898. As the story goes, Milton gave Kitty a bouquet of fresh flowers every day of their marriage, as she took great pleasure in gardens and their flowers. Milton, too, was a lover of horticulture and flowers.
Their idyllic marriage ended in 1915 when Kitty died following an extended illness. Three years later, a memorial rose garden in her honor was planted at High Point by her husband who was never to remarry. The garden and grounds had always been open to visitors from the moment the Hershey's had completed construction. Kitty had been active in adding her personal gardening touches throughout the town with plantings of flowers and trees, believing the people would enjoy their homes more if they were made “nice”.
The Hershey Rose Gardens opened in 1937 on only 3.5 acres, but there were 12,000 roses bushes to see. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the gardens, and with the celebration, the rose named for Milton S. Hershey in 1940 has been reintroduced. It was originally planted in the garden in 1941 and over the years, the number of bushes had dwindled to just six of them. As a result, budwood was sent to growers in South Carolina and Canada in time to have 20 of the bushes planted for this year. It's expected that there will be about 75 by next year, with enough in 2014 to be able to sell to visitors and flower shops.
By the time we left the gardens, I had captured more than 400 pictures of the most gorgeous flowers I've ever seen. I rushed to my computer to get them downloaded so I could look at them all over again. While I was busy with my camera and computer, Mark took to reading the garden brochure given to all visitors. We discovered, to our disappointment, that there are yearly memberships to be had. The cost is $60 per couple or $75 for families with children under the age of 18. The family membership also covers grandchildren under the age of 18. Our disappointment stemmed from the fact that had we read the brochure while we were at the gardens and decided we wanted a membership, they would have counted our admission fee toward the membership.
Mark picked up the phone on the slim chance that their membership director might cut us a break. When he reached the woman in charge of memberships, he explained what had happened and asked if they would be willing to consider the day's admission price if we came the next day to purchase a membership. Not only did she give us the discount, but she gave us more than a few days. And to make sure there was no mix up she gave Mark her name and business number, as well as emailed the folks at the admissions building to inform them of the arrangement. When we took my grandson a few days later, they not only were aware of the arrangement, but they knew us by name.
In addition to the right to view the gardens, there are many planned activities throughout the year for which both children and adults are invited without cost as a member. There is an annual reception and newsletters sent out to inform members of events and issues. My favorite perk is the one where a membership to the Hershey Gardens is reciprocated at a number of other botanical gardens across the country.
We've been to the gardens three times so far since we joined a month ago. I still have not seen everything there is to see. I can't think of any other activity or organization I've belonged to that has provided so much for the money spent. If you're coming to Hershey, The Gardens is one attraction well worth visiting, but make sure you've given yourself plenty of time to take it all in!
“The more beautiful you make something which people can see and use, the more enjoyment they will get out of it.” ~~~Milton S. Hershey