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  • Writer's pictureLinda Borromeo

The Hope Rose and a Wondrous Old Rose Garden

My husband and I looked down at our sad miniature rose. "I don't think it's going to make it," Peter said.

When Peter gave me the little rose bush, it boasted a wealth of tiny red blossoms. Now, we knew the rose was in trouble.

The plant struggled to thrive on the shaded deck of our Berkeley apartment. In an attempt to find more sun, we moved the plant container several times, Nothing helped and it was discouraging to see more leaves dropping off every day.

Just when the rose looked its worst, Peter and I had the opportunity to move to a cottage in Modesto—the first home of our own. Of course, we kept to the motto, "No living thing left behind." Our small band of travelers included Babbitt, my miniature white rabbit with delicate gray ears and paws, a playful yellow parakeet, an imperious blue parakeet, and the rose.

At our new home, we planted the rose in a place with abundant sunshine, although every sign pointed to the possibility we were too late.

To our delight, the floundering rose took hold. The miniature plant gained momentum each year. Finally, it grew so big it was as tall and lush as the regular roses we'd also planted in our yard. The blossoms rejected the idea of being miniature. In the summer, they showed up in great swirls of crimson petals. The leaves—green and healthy—stayed put.

We called it the "Hope Rose," and it encouraged us during those inevitable times when things were difficult.

A Wondrous Old Rose Garden

I've been thinking of the Hope Rose as I've become immersed in a lovely place of old roses. They grew on the cosmopolitan Wooded Island, a part of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

In the book I'm closing in on finishing, Mystery Fair, the Wooded Island is the center of secrets at the Chicago World's Fair. Christie and Melina must investigate a dangerous mystery— what happened to Melina's vanished father?

Chicago World's Fair by H. D. Nichols
Chicago World's Fair by H. D. Nichols

In Norman Bolotin and Christine Laing's excellent book, I learned that more than 27 million visitors arrived at the Chicago World's Fair between May and October 1893. There were 214 fanciful buildings to explore on 633 acres. The noise, hurry, and overwhelming choices of things to see left guests longing for a break.

The Wooded Island was designed as a much-needed retreat, despite the danger and mystery going on there in my book. The Island provided a green haven with its peaceful winding paths, many kinds of sheltering trees, and a delightful bouquet of living flowers. The Island grounds spanned sixteen charming acres, with ten acres planted in flowers.

Weary fairgoers, after crossing a graceful bridge spanning a lagoon, first noticed the scent of thousands of roses wafting their way. Countries from all over the world had sent their best roses to Chicago. As visitors strolled along the rose garden paths, all the different varieties must have dazzled them in every way.

Rose Garden Discoveries

But which rose varieties dazzled them? I thought it might be easy to find the names of the rose varieties in the garden. I was wrong. I enjoy going down the rabbit (or should I say, Babbitt) trails of history, but none of them led me to any of the lovely old rose names.

Then, tucked away in a 1894 Report issued by the state of New York, I found a listing of some of the roses on display on the fairgrounds. Here I found the beautiful names of vintage roses—Perle des Jardins, Souvenir de la Malmaison, Comtesse de Labarthe, Etoile de Lyon, and the rose named for lighthouse heroine Grace Darling. Some of these were certainly a part of the Wooded Island rose garden, but the report did not indicate which ones.

I'm still on the trail of roses specifically found in the Wooded Island's rose garden, and I hope to update this post with their discovery.

In a Garden

Roses engage every sense—the smooth velvet of the rose petals, the different shapes and colors of each blossom, and over all, the lovely scent of romantic roses from ancient varieties.

When guests finally emerged from the Wooded Island's rose garden, I wonder if they sat down on one of the rustic benches to let it all sink in before heading out to view the next exhibit.

It must have been a magical place. I like to think my Hope Rose would have fit right in with all the beautiful, world-traveling roses on display in the island garden. And I hope, in between solving a dangerous mystery, my characters, Christie and Melina, might take a break themselves in the wondrous old rose garden.


Join the adventure as Melina and Christie solve dangerous island secrets. Book Two in Linda's Islands of Mystery Trilogy was named a finalist in the 2023 Cascade Writing Contest. See more about Linda's books here >


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