The American Rose Annual 21: 29-32 (1936)
The Reinisch Rose and Rose Test Gardens in Topeka
Harold Richardson, Topeka, Kansas

Editors' Note. — It was the Editor's fortune to be one of the judges of the "More Beautiful America" Contest which in 1932 awarded its first prize to the great garden in Topeka. It is another item of that good fortune to have from that most capable international rose authority, Dr. J. H. Nicolas, who has seen all the great rose-gardens of Europe and America, his own impressions of the Reinisch garden, which are here presented.

Dr. J. H. Nicolas on the Reinisch Rose Gardens:

If the legendary Diogenes came back to earth to look for the perfect public rose-garden, he would surely need to travel many, many miles. After having covered the various sections where roses are known to grow, he would shake his head and in despair retire to his barrel, sadly cogitating upon the uncertainty of politics, black-spot, mildew, borers, and what not. There he would be, blue as a wet hen, when a transcontinental motorist would stop:

"Well, old man, why the gloom?"

"I have looked for a perfect public rose-garden, and I found none."

"Have you been in Kansas?"

"Kansas! No, I am told roses cannot grow in those Prairie States; they say the soil is not propitious, plants freeze in winter, dry up and burn in summer. I have talked to people who have tried, and they have all kinds of apparently good excuses to explain their failure. Why should I go there?

"Well, you had better follow the Transcontinental Highway passing near Topeka, Kans. There, you will see big signs pointing the way to the Reinisch Memorial Rose Garden. It may be good for what ails you!"

Skeptical Diogenes accordingly started for Topeka, and when he arrived before the monumental entrance to the Reinisch Rose Garden, he blew out his lantern, and cried — "Topeka! Eureka, I have found the perfect rose-garden!"

Like Diogenes, I have traveled many miles on two continents. While there are some good municipal or public rose-gardens, none comes up to the Reinisch Garden. My opinion is based on several features, extent, planning, selection of varieties, and last, but by no means least — expert maintenance, without which the other factors would be nullified. I have observed the garden since its beginning, and was there again last October. What struck me most was the uniform vigor of the vegetation, the quality of the bloom, the health of the plants and foliage. Each bed, averaging 125 to 150 plants, is of one variety, and plants were so even as to almost give the impression of being artificial, as if all were cast in the same mold.

Varieties do not go into the main show garden until they have been exhaustively tried in another part. This procedure would be advisable in other gardens where, too often, well-meaning members of the local promoting organization insist on their pet varieties being in the big garden. All varieties can be grown by some tour de force but many utterly fail under routine maintenance.

Credit for the existence of that garden is due to a public-spirited citizen and fighter, Thomas F. Doran. He started growing roses years ago "on a dare," because of the general prejudice that "it could not be done in Kansas." Having succeeded, he promoted the garden as a public demonstration that roses do grow and can be grown to perfection in Kansas.

* "Rosacoccus" is a very contagious but beneficent bacterium which makes human life more rosy and tends to lengthen it.

After much effort and a severe drain on his private exchequer, Mr. Doran succeeded in spreading rosacoccus* among his fellow citizens and public authorities. Park Commissioner Snyder is Mr. Doran's most enthusiastic convert, and the personnel in charge of the garden is efficient to the upper degree.

The population of Topeka at large are now unanimous in their pride in the garden, and swift punishment would befall anyone suggesting its abandonment or the curtailment of its support.

IT WAS my good fortune to be associated with Mr. Thomas F. Doran during the planning and construction of Topeka's civic pride—the nationally known Reinisch Rose and Rose Test Gardens and the Doran Rock-Garden.

Topeka is a beautiful prairie city, chartered more than seventy-five years ago by a group of the early pioneers who settled Kansas. Always under the guidance and influence of that pioneer spirit, Topeka has become a great city. Today, Topeka presents a population of approximately sixty-five thousand persons living in a clean, thriving city. With the increase in population, individual deeds and influence naturally become less noticeable. Fortunately, on the other hand, there occasionally arises from among the multitude one whose desire it is to build for his fellow men, for those less fortunate than himself.

Mr. Thomas F. Doran typifies the early pioneer. Born on a farm near Council Grove, Kans., during the early years of the Civil War when books were scarce and schools few, Mr. Doran was first educated in his own home. He attended school at St. Marys, Kans., and later graduated from the University of Kansas, being subsequently admitted to the bar. He is today the active head of a strong law firm of the Middle West.

During the early period of Topeka's growth Mr. E. F. A. Reinisch served as landscape architect. For thirty years he planned, planted, and developed the present park system.

After the death of Mr. Reinisch, the Topeka Horticultural Society found that he had had visions of a rose-garden. He had even placed temporary stakes about the tract he wished to include, but nothing was done until the idea was presented to Mr. Doran, to whom it strongly appealed. This was the start. It definitely began late in the spring of 1930.

Mr. Doran, in complete control, organized the various working units and personally saw to it that every detail was carried out as planned. He wrote many letters, gathering information which could be incorporated in the plan which he had envisioned. Then the services of skilled landscape architects were employed and those visions made more tangible. Next, estimates were made by Mr. Doran of the cost of the completed project, and then came the task of obtaining the necessary funds. People from every walk of life volunteered with both services and money. School children, men and women wage-earners, bankers, city and state office holders, people of every station in life, came forward under Mr. Doran's leadership.

A Rose and Rose Test Garden were definitely assured, and it was now a matter of execution. Before any great expenditures were made, Mr. Doran drew and secured the passage of an ordinance under which the tract of land was set aside for a perpetual rose-garden, setting out clearly how it should be established and maintained.

In this original ordinance, the city agreed to accept the garden, free and clear of all incumbrance, and in return to perpetually maintain and care for it; further, the ordinance provides that the Topeka Horticultural Society retain equal jurisdiction in the management. The original ordinance included five and two-tenths acres. Later, the garden was increased to approximately seven acres and has since been extended to include the Doran Rock-Garden, including a total of nearly nine acres.

Because of daily personal supervision of the work, the main part of the garden was completed in sixty days, and nearly nine thousand rose bushes actually planted.

This first year's effort included the completion of the Reinisch Rose and Rose Test Garden proper, fully fenced. A beautiful lily pool was constructed (later dedicated as the Doran Lily Pool), the pergola built, stone walks completed throughout the garden, sodded walks of blue grass made between the beds of roses, and posts and chains for the climbers were erected around the entire inside portion of the garden. There was also a well-planned planting of trees and shrubs around the outside of the garden and about the pergola, and a planting of native Kansas wild roses around the entire tract of land set out for the gardens. In short, the rose-gardens were completed and half the beds planted the first year, and the other half of the garden laid out into beds and prepared for the roses which were purchased during the following winter and planted early in the spring of 1931. This was a record accomplishment!

During the winter of 1930, Mr. Doran conceived the possibilities of a Municipal Rock-Garden. If the people could be helped to forget the difficulties of the mounting depression, or if it assisted in the stimulation of interest in the homes of our city, such a project, he believed, would not be in vain. With this in mind, plans were drawn for the rock-garden, and work immediately started. There were no funds solicited for this rock-garden which, when completed, was dedicated as the "Thomas F. Doran Rock-Garden" and given to the people of Topeka by its donors. It is one of the most beautiful gardens of its kind in the United States. I do not believe any single project or civic enterprise completed in this city during the past thirty years has provided as much pleasure and satisfaction to as great a number of people as has this rock-garden. It has been a stimulating influence to young and old alike because it is a real rock-garden, and not a mere pile of uncomfortable rocks.

In 1932, national recognition was received by the Gardens when the Better Homes and Gardens magazine awarded the Reinisch Rose and Rose Test Gardens and the Doran Rock-Garden first prize in its "More Beautiful America" Contest carrying with it the cash prize of $1,000. This award, which followed an extended competition, was an honor not only to Topeka but an especial tribute to the man who had been almost solely responsible for their creation.

The gardens are constantly receiving attention, and new roses are being planted every year. Trained men are retained, in order that proper care shall be given the plants, and, fortunately, the management is being kept free from politics — an item of notable security in these days.

Plans are ever going forward in Mr. Doran's mind for the improvement and extension of the work which has thus far been done, and it is hoped the near future will see a realization of those dreams in the development of projects of even greater magnitude and beauty.


p. 38

I am moved to write these words because of a letter just received from Dr. J. H. Nicolas, after a visit to the Reinisch Rose Garden of Topeka, Kans., from which I quote, referring also to the Reinisch story on page 29.

"About the Reinisch Garden, of Topeka, Kansas. I will only say that it was superb, and never have I seen a garden of that immensity so good, and evenly good. It certainly demonstrates that the Prairie States can grow roses. Mr. Doran told me that many people had dubbed him a fool; that roses could not be grown in Kansas. He proved them wrong!"

See: Merrill (1936) and Doran (1936)