By REBECCA ISENHART
SCHENECTADY — Among the award-winning flowers and graceful landscaping of the Rose Garden in Schenectady’s Central Park, there used to be a small, aging pond that leaked into the nearby grass and drew visitors’ eyes away from the stately brick gatehouse and steps at the garden’s entrance. It wasn’t attractive.
That’s all water under the bridge, now — literally. The Rose Garden Restoration Committee made sure of it when it contracted Decker’s Landscape & Aquatics in Pattersonville to design and build a new water feature near the park’s entrance.
A natural-looking waterfall trickles downhill, under a stone bridge that once stood over the caved-in, stagnant pond.
The new addition is inviting. On a recent afternoon, children splashed their hands in the edge of the water while a woman rested with a book under a nearby tree. A couple with a newborn baby posed for a family photo, followed immediately by a playful wedding party and its photographer.
“It was something we knew was necessary,” said Matt Cuevas, board spokesman for the Rose Garden Restoration Committee. “The pond was in total disrepair. It was ruining the lawn.”
Cuevas has been part of the restoration effort since 1995, when the city of Schenectady stopped tending to the Rose Garden because of budget pressures. Volunteers took over and began to care for the flowers. Since then, the group has widened its scope immensely, creating a master plan for the garden. In 2009, it added the gatehouse and steps that face Central Parkway and, in 2011, a tall fountain near the center of the garden.
Ralph Blackwood has lived down the street from the Rose Garden for 31 years. Earlier this year, he and his wife bought 1791 Central Parkway, directly across the street. They’re making final preparations to move into their new home with a rosy view.
For years, Blackwood walked his dog right past the garden without noticing it. At the time, a tall hedge ran around the garden, hiding it from view. Its transformation over the past decade, especially the new water feature, has made it one of his favorite aspects of his new house.
“I can hear the falls from the porch,” he said.
Blackwood’s brother lives on the ocean, and when he visits, he said they enjoy sitting outside and listening to the waves.
“This is my version,” Blackwood said.
The joy that neighbors and visitors feel is part of the reason the restoration committee’s board members volunteer so much of their time. Chris Witkowski, the board’s newest member, said a good friend grew up around the corner from the park. Witkowski’s friend used to cut through the garden on her way to middle school, and the improvements have impressed her, Witkowski said.
“She’s just so thrilled,” Witkowski said. “It’s such a gift to the city of Schenectady.”
Dave Gade, the group’s resident rose expert, has also been a volunteer since 1995. While he works, he often sees people visit the garden to appreciate the roses.
“They sit down on the bench, and the bad day goes away,” Gade said.
Following its master plan, the committee will continue to add features to the garden as funds become available. Just maintaining the garden costs about $50,000 per year, Cuevas said, including three part-time gardeners, materials and irrigation.
The group holds a fundraiser each year and receives a portion of the fee collected by the city when the Rose Garden is reserved for events such as weddings and reunions. It is mainly supported by philanthropy, especially through the Carlillian Foundation, which was established by the late Charles W. Carl Jr.
Two more projects are already in the committee’s sights. It plans to construct a pergola, a shaded area similar to an arbor, and restore a crumbling staircase near the back of the garden.
Even without those improvements, Blackwood is excited to admire the view from his new front porch.
“I’m the luckiest neighbor,” he said.