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Old City Cemetery Roses Become a Thorny Issue

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Not every cemetery gets such a prestigious honor.

"There are really important people here who designed Sacramento," Tony Ulep, parks supervisor for the City of Sacramento said.

In November 2014, the Sacramento Old City Cemetery was named a national historic district.
Along with it, came opportunity for federal grants and new rules.

"The whole purpose of it is to be able to preserve the headstones and make sure they don't deteriorate," Ulep said.

What was not included in the designation are the more than 500 rose bushes that give a splash of color to the otherwise dark graveyard.

"We need to try to save the roses," garden volunteer Kathryn Mackenzie said.

The cemetery's rose garden started in 1992, which is not old enough for it to count as part of the historic district.

So unfortunately, they must either be removed or follow guidelines given by the designation.

"It definitely is a pretty rose, so we don't want to completely get rid of it. But we do want to protect the stone right here," Ulep said, pointing at a tombstone surrounded by rose thorns.

The city must follow rules that give priority to the headstones, such as:

  • Stones must have 12 inches of surrounding space, free of any plants.
  • There must be nothing that creates excess shade, which can lead to mold.
  • There must be no large arbors that restrict view of the names of the headstones.

"What we are asking the volunteers to do, is move this rose section over here, up along Broadway," Ulep said.

But some rose enthusiasts say by moving the flowers to the side of the property, they're worried it will change the entire landscape of the cemetery.

"It's really not the same walking along the edge of it, as opposed to where they were originally placed by the city historian," Mackenzie said.

Makenzie showed examples of unique arbors, which were created by a designer who repurposed old Victorian fencing.

She also mentioned a rose bush that was brought over by wagon for the California Gold Rush.

"People come from all over the world to see roses grown to their full potential. There are some that are 20 feet by 20 feet and the perfume is just amazing." Mackenzie said.

Now, the city of Sacramento is trying to the federal guidelines to preserve the headstones, while asking for input on how to preserve the roses that make the city cemetery shine.

"They can put it in writing, and give us a day, and usually Dec. 1 is when they can transplant or relocate their plant," Ulep said.

The city is open for suggestions from the public until March 19. They hope to reach a compromise that makes everyone happy.