The new pergola at the Berkeley Rose Garden. Photo: Mary Rees

In time for some local high-school prom photos — though too late for Berkeley High’s which were taken at Oakland’s Mormon Temple — the central part of the new pergola, or arbor, at the Berkeley Rose Garden has been rebuilt, and the curved pathway underneath is open to park visitors again. At least for now.

Three years ago, the overhead trellis and walkway were cordoned off due to safety concerns. Work to restore the remainder of the pergola and upgrade the path will resume in the fall of 2018.

To celebrate the progress, the Berkeley Parks and Recreation Department hosted a grand reopening in the Rose Garden on Saturday, May 13. The city did not advertise the event widely, for fear that the event would attract hundreds of people. About 150 to 200 people, including the mayor and several city councilmembers, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, said Scott Ferris, Director of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront.

“Having a thousand would not be good” for the garden, he said.

A student jazz combo from Berkeley High performed, and park staff gave tours of the Rose Garden, according to Ferris. In honor of Mother’s Day, the mothers in the crowd received single-stem roses — not cut from the bushes in the garden — and chocolates from Blue’s Chocolates, Ferris said.

The reopening marks the end of Phase 1 of the reconstruction project, which was funded with $325,000 from Measure WW (the Regional Open Space, Wildlife, Shoreline and Parks Bond Extension) and about $275,000 from Measure F (the City of Berkeley Special Parks Parcel Tax), Ferris said.  

The eastern hillside just outside the rose garden’s fence is covered with native plants to help with pest control by attracting the predator insects that feed on rose pests, according to the garden’s rosarian, Roger Kubalek. Photo: Mary Rees

The money from Measure WW, passed by voters in 2008, was expiring, and the city did not yet have full funding for the entire project, so city staff broke it into two phases in order to use the Measure WW funds. More money from other sources will become available for Phase 2 in fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, according to Ferris.

Visitors’ reactions to the completed work were positive on a recent Wednesday morning. Nancy and Leslie Isaksen of Oakland were strolling through the rose garden with their grandchildren.

“It’s beautiful,” Nancy said of the new pergola. “We’re really, really happy they’re taking care of it.” She grew up in Berkeley and says the rose garden is “a meaningful piece” of her family’s life.

“I used to watch my parents play tennis here,” Nancy said. Years ago, “the rose garden was the first outing for our newborn,” she added. She and her husband also admired the new ramp built on the western side of the tunnel, under Euclid Street, that connects the garden with Codornices Park.

Phase 1 of the project included improving access to the rose garden, to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. The new ramp makes the park easier for wheelchair users to travel from the tunnel to the tennis courts. In addition, the city repaved the path through the tunnel and installed new lighting inside, Ferris said.

During Phase 2 “we will complete all of the ADA work in Codornices Park,” said Ferris. On the rose garden side, “the path [from the tunnel] will come through the practice tennis court. There’s enough of a wide space on the western side of that tennis court for us to do a wooden pathway.”

After the pathway is completed, they will put up the rest of the pergola, Ferris said.

Ferris expects the City Council to approve funding for Phase 2 along with the city budget on June 27. The city plans to start Phase 2 at the end of summer 2018. As with Phase 1, only the arbor and pathway will be closed during the construction; the rest of the garden will remain open for visitors.

Opportunities to help maintain the roses currently flourishing at the Berkeley Rose Garden are available. Photo: Mary Rees

Meanwhile, the roses are flourishing and fragrant — and the work to maintain them is ongoing. The winter rains this year helped, said Roger Kubalek, who was hired as the garden’s rosarian last year. Kubalek said he’s also made a lot of changes in how the garden is tended. For example, he found that the rose bushes were being irrigated at the wrong time of year, he said.

Kubalek raked out all of the fallen leaves and other debris in the beds last fall, “did an aggressive pruning” last December, and added more than 2,000 pounds of compost and nearly as much organic fertilizer, he said.  

The eastern hillside just outside the garden fence is covered with native plants, to help with pest control by attracting the predator insects that feed on rose pests, Kubalek said.

Volunteers to help tend the garden are always welcome. Kubalek encourages anyone interested in volunteering to contact him at

Repairs at a few other Berkeley parks are also near completion, Ferris said. The James Kenney Recreation Center and the Bahia Child Care Center will reopen June 17, and the Grove tennis courts and basketball courts will reopen June 29.