Roses reign at park's garden in McKeesport

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Renziehausen Park is a 258-acre park in McKeesport featuring a rose garden and arboretum. Located on Eden Park Boulevard off Walnut Street, it originated at a time when steel was king and money could be put into a garden of this type. The public garden and arboretum were started in 1938, and most of the stonework was done by the Works Project Administration.

Renzie, as the locals call it, gets its name from the Renziehausen family, who emigrated from Germany and settled in the McKeesport area in the mid-1800s. Gottlieb Renziehausen and his wife, Sophia Evert, had four children: Louisa, Frederjck, Henry and Emilie. The patriarch owned and operated a haberdashery in McKeesport until his death in 1865.


Henry took over the business, and Frederjck, who had diabetes, ran a successful distillery and bottled the "Large" brand of whiskey from its location in nearby Large. Profits from the distillery became the basis for the family fortune, much of which was left to Emilie, who helped to establish a ward at Children's Hospital in 1937 and also donated a family home on the distillery property to be used as a convalescent center for diabetics. A lake in Renzie Park is named for her.

The family donated the land to McKeesport with the stipulation that it be used as a park and to never be sold. In addition to the gardens, it also has a bandshell, baseball fields, exercise trails, a fishing pond, picnic pavilions, tennis courts and restrooms. The Renziehausens left the remainder of the family fortune to the city of Pittsburgh.

Although not well known, Renzie Park's rose garden is the second largest in the state, behind only Hershey Gardens. Containing more than 1,800 roses, it has been named one of the top 10 favorites by the All-American Rose Selection Organization.

The rose garden is maintained by the Garden Club of McKeesport, which was founded in 1933, just five years before the arboretum was established. The club maintains the facility through hard work, generous donations and countless plant and craft sales. There are approximately 40 to 50 members who maintain the 31/2 acres of roses, perennials, water pond, herb garden and a newly planted butterfly garden. Their work begins in April with pruning and continues until mid-November. The garden club also maintains a two-story clubhouse where members have meetings, workshops, luncheons and teas.

According to club president Frances Zalac, members average 600 volunteer hours a month weeding, deadheading and maintaining the rose beds.

"Along with all the work comes the pleasure of a bloom that lasts from early spring into the fall," she said.

Garden club members maintain their beautiful blooms by feeding a number of times during the season with a 10/10/10 fertilizer, alfalfa pellets and Epsom salts. They treat and spray for black spot, midge and Japanese beetles. The roses are kept well-watered by a sprinkler system.

The park is open to the public year-round, and a tour of the garden is free. The best time to view the roses is during the last week of May and the months of June and September.

Rose favorites

'Fourth of July': A striped red-and-white climber with ruffled blooms, it is an excellent repeat bloomer with stunning sprays of color reaching a height of 10-14 feet. It is cold-hardy and very disease resistant.

'Julia Child': Personally chosen by the celebrity chef, it is a 2006 AARS Winner and is also known in the United Kingdom as the Absolutely Fabulous Rose after a popular TV show. It is a golden floribunda rose producing clusters of repeating blooms all season long. It is a popular landscaping plant with disease resistance, constant bloom and a sweet licorice fragrance.

'Mr. Lincoln': A 1965 AARS Winner, this velvety, deep red hybrid tea rose is one of the most popular garden roses. The blossoms are strongly scented and have very strong, upright stems, making it ideal for a long-stemmed bouquet. The bushes grow 4-5 feet tall and 2 feet across.

'Knock Out': Introduced in 2000, this rose is cold-hardy, heat-tolerant, disease-resistant and very floriferous. They come in a wide range of colors from cherry red to creamy yellow and grow 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. They are ideal for growing in containers or along borders and can be easily maintained at a smaller size by pruning.

'Queen Elizabeth': A beautiful pink grandiflora hybridized in 1954, this is a favorite among rose breeders around the world. The blooms are 4 inches wide, fragrant and profuse. It grows 5-7 feet high and 3-4 feet wide.

Rose tips

• Plant in well-drained, fertile soil in full sun.

• Space 4 feet apart to allow for good air circulation and growth.

• Water slowly and thoroughly. Avoid wetting the foliage, as this can spread diseases.

• Fertilize when the bush first leafs out and after each flush of bloom. Stop fertilizing after July.

• Mulch to minimize weeds and maintain soil moisture.


Susan Biddle is a Penn State master gardener. Columns by master gardeners will sometimes appear in place of the Garden Q&A by Sandy Feather, a Penn State Extension educator.


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