Diamonds and Roses in Hershey

In Hershey, everything’s coming up roses, just as it has for 75 years.

It’s the diamond anniversary for the 23-acre Hershey Gardens, with bountiful blooms and breathtaking butterflies heralding the celebration.

As they have since the garden’s inception, the intense display of thousands of rose bushes take center stage, blooming in 275 varieties of scent, color, and shape.Milton S. Hershey developed the gardens as a way to offer beauty to his community, originally creating a 3.5 acre garden filled with more than 12,000 rose bushes.

“The beds are exactly the same as when he created them,” says Jamie Shiffer, garden operations manager. “When we study the historic photographs, the layout is identical. I would say 80 percent of the roses are actually in the same spots.”

Over the years, some newer varieties have replaced more disease-prone ones. But the garden remains a sampling of all that is possible in this species: from delicate pale hues to vibrant, knock-your-socks-off color; from petite miniatures to soaring shrubs;  from old-fashioned simple blossoms to decadent, many petaled profusions.

While it’s hard to choose a favorite amid so many choices, one rose does carry a special place in the history of the garden. And thanks to several dedicated rosarians, Milton Hershey’s namesake rose the “M.S. Hershey Rose” will be making a strong comeback.

When the American Rose Society originally honored Hershey with the rose in 1940, it was showcased in his garden. But during the ensuing seven decades, it declined to only a five remaining specimens. To preserve this unique variety, cuttings of budwood were sent to expert growers in Canada and South Carolina. These growers have grafted the budwood cuttings to hardy root stock to encourage the Hershey rose to thrive once more. Several of the new bushes are debuting this summer. By next year,  75 of these heirloom Hershey roses will bloom in a special M.S. Hershey Tribute Garden built to celebrate their return.

“Eventually we hope to have enough so we can sell them in the gift shop,” says horticulture specialist Barb Whitcraft, adding that it’s a non-caloric way to take a little bit of Hershey home with you, without expanding your waistline.

Rose fans may be concerned that the mild winter and warm spring pushed the traditional bloom time of the roses earlier than usual, with some flowers emerging at the end of April. But thankfully, the breadth of varieties ensures that whenever visitors arrive, usually some roses are blooming.“The roses are always going in and out throughout the season,” says Whitcraft. “But in the summer, annuals come into their peak bloom.”For summer visitors, wanning rose displays also give way to a dance of color of a different sort. More than 400 butterflies, representing 20 different North American varieties, dazzle in the garden’s Butterfly House.“That’s our biggest draw in the summer,” says Shiffer. “For butterflies, the hotter the better.”To keep the Butterfly House at peak “bloom” more than 3,500 chrysalis are brought in each season to emerge on a regular schedule. The “ceiling” of the Butterfly House has also been lowered to allow for more close-up encounters with these flying jewels.Summer visitors also delight in the delightful shade of the arboretum, as well as the refreshing reflection inspired by the tranquil Japanese garden and its pond of colorful koi. The garden’s newest addition includes a grove of nut trees and redbuds, eventually growing to provide additional shade in what was once simply lawn.Plant enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the mature Katsura (with leaves purportedly scented like cotton candy); the historic fig tree that arrived generations ago from Italy; and the unusual Dense Jade tree.Of the 11 themed gardens spread across the compound, the Children’s Garden remains the most fun, with opportunities to discover plenty of plants with chocolate sounding names, and some that even smell like chocolate. The misting Kiss fountains and cool caterpillar tunnel create an oasis on the steamiest of summer days. And how can anyone resist making music in the garden with the interactive chiming displays. Adding to the playful feeling will be a special anniversary exhibit. Students at the Milton Hershey School have created a colorful way to honor their founder’s garden anniversary. Five hundred whimsically decorated watering cans will adorn the garden grounds this summer.It’s a lot to take in, so thankfully picnic tables are available near the entrance to allow for an extended visit. Pack a lunch, pick up some chocolate when you get to town, and enjoy Milton Hershey’s gift of beauty.It just makes a visit to Hershey even sweeter.


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