For more than a decade, “Taipei’s beautician” Chen Chu-feng (陳主奉) has dedicated herself to making northern Taiwan’s largest rose garden a crowning jewel of the capital.
After the Taipei International Flora Expo ended in 2011, a 1.3 hectare plot in Xinsheng Park (新生公園) used to display bonsai was transformed into a diverse and vibrant rose garden.
Now with more than 5,000 rose bushes of 700 varieties, the Taipei Rose Garden attracts upwards of 10,000 visitors every day during the flowering season in March and April.
Photo: Cheng Ming-hsiang, Taipei Times
Among the 700 are some unique varieties, including a particularly fragrant type of rose with a purple center, the hardy “lavender Pomponella,” the climbing “Souvenir de la Malmaison” from France and the white Eden rose, which can only be seen in spring.
In charge of this extensive assemblage is Chen, who draws upon her 35 years of experience working in public gardens to keep the roses thriving.
She started with 2,000 seedlings in a nursery that she occasionally lent out for exhibitions, but without being permanently planted, they struggled to flourish.
After the expo ended, she took the chance to find her roses a permanent home.
It took her seven months to remove the stones and bricks left from the former bonsai area, and to turn and fertilize the soil before she could plant the bushes.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) was struck by the garden when he visited and took it upon himself to personally promote it, bringing it under the city government’s purview in 2019.
Since then it has grown into the most extensive rose garden in northern Taiwan.
To keep the annual Taipei Rose Festival worthy of its acclaim, Chen not only designs the exhibition area, but even travels abroad at her own expense for research.
“I like to try things no one has done before,” she said on Saturday last week.
Before there were rose gardens, Taiwanese had to fly abroad if they wanted to see the flowers, she said.
Chen said that her mother loved roses, but was too ill to travel.
“If I knew of a garden like this back then, I could have taken her to fulfill her dream,” she said, adding that it fueled her determination to create a garden in Taipei.
As roses are native to temperate regions, they are difficult to cultivate in semi-tropical Taiwan, posing a challenge to Chen in her mission.
She painstakingly searched for varieties that could withstand the climate, approaching experts for tea roses bred in Asia and Europe, and collecting plants introduced from England, France and elsewhere from people across Taiwan.
Gradually, she grew her garden, although it still faces the challenges of dark and rainy weather in the capital.
“Failures are valuable,” Chen said, explaining how she came up with ways to improve drainage, control soil acidity, cultivate bacteria and introduce organic fertilizer.
Every day, rain or shine, she leads a small team to tend the garden, enduring the pricks of thorns to ensure that each flower can bloom to its fullest during the rose festival.
Although this year’s festival ended on April 4, the bushes are still in bloom and continue to draw thousands of visitors.
Chen said she worked hard to bring beauty into the city center for people to enjoy, which ultimately makes her job worthwhile.
“I hope to do this as long as I can,” she said.
She also wants to pass her passion on to others, and hopes the garden would one day become a major attraction, drawing admirers from around the world, Chen said.
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