These days, the Raleigh Rose Garden is the home of weddings and concerts, birthday parties and picnics.
The 6.5-acre garden, with 60 beds of roses, an amphitheater and open spaces, is great for gatherings or just regular visits. And it's in its prime right now.
You'll find something in bloom at the gardens from March to the first frost, but Mother's Day usually is when the first wave of roses bloom, says Lisa Wallace, the recently retired city horticulturist who spent much of her career tending to the garden's roses.
It's gorgeous right now with roses of all colors blooming and a perfect place for a visit or picnic as you're celebrating moms and grandmas this weekend. If you need more than roses, the neighboring Raleigh Little Theatre has a couple of events - the opening of the family-friendly production of "Sideways Stories from Wayside School" and a Mother's Day Brunch on Sunday (reservations required for that).
It's hard to imagine that anybody ever called it a "mud hole." But a lot has happened on the grounds of the Raleigh Rose Garden over the past 139 years.
After walking through the gardens the other day, I was curious about its history. Wallace has spent a lot of time studying the history, sifting through documents and talking to people who were there during some of it.
Here's what she told me:
Back in 1872, the property was part of the 55 acres that made up the state fairgrounds. The focal point of the property wasn't roses, but a three-story grandstand with a half-mile race track around it (which is now Pogue Street).
During World War I, soldiers trained there. Tanks moved up and down the banks of the fairgrounds, which could easily be the steep banks along the edge of the rose garden, Wallace says.
After the last fair was held there in 1925, the city eventually took up ownership after a developer who bought it went bankrupt. The land was sold for houses, but the property that is now the rose garden, affectionately called the "mud hole," wouldn't move.
And that's when Cantey Sutton came in. She was the driving force behind bringing the Raleigh Little Theatre and eventually the rose garden to the site. The theater moved from a small space in downtown Raleigh to a new building in 1940. The first roses were planted eight years later.
"It’s near and dear to my heart," said Wallace, who got married there. "I spent 15 years of my career there. It’s a real special place. The neighborhood is really invested in it. It’s part of that community. A lot of people walk their dogs there, bring their children there. There are weddings, receptions, concerts in the amphitheater. It’s a real thriving part of the community."
The city maintains the gardens, but the Raleigh Little Theatre is in charge of booking special events there. Click here for details.
Wallace tells me the city is always looking for volunteers to be part of their "Dead-headers Society." Contact Cindy Trumbower, the parks department's volunteer services director.
And watch the video for some more scenes of the Raleigh Rose Garden.
You'll find the Raleigh Rose Garden at 301 Pogue St., which is near Cameron Village in Raleigh.