Sunday, October 10, 2010

Morcom Amphitheater of Roses, Oakland

Sometimes staying close to home is just right. Have you ever spent a weekend constantly working, trying to catch up on errands, house cleaning and shopping, and then ….. it’s Sunday afternoon and you know you need to do something fun before facing the workweek? I had a weekend like this in the middle of July and decided to visit the Morcom Amphitheater of Roses, which is so close to where we live that of course we take it for granted, driving by five days a week to and from the office, but never stopping to literally “smell the roses.”

The Morcom rose garden, named after Fred N. Morcom, Mayor of Oakland 1931-33, was built in the 1930s, during the depression, in a steeply sided canyon. Landscape architect Arthur Cobbledick took advantage of the sloping site. The site is terraced with formal gardens at each level. There are five entrances into the park from the surrounding residential neighborhood. We parked at the high side of the site and walked down, one of two long flights of stairs, to the first terrace of rose beds. Rose covered trellises terminate the stairway. The rose beds on the upper terrace are bi-laterally symmetrical and together form an oval. Each bed is planted with one or more rose varieties, each labeled.

A wide sloping path leads to the next terrace. Embedded in the walk are small bronze plaques placed there to honor reach recipient of Oakland’s Mother of the Year program. The centerpiece of the middle terrace is a formal, elongated oval reflecting pool. It is set in a lawn defined by an oval path. A Mediterranean-style pavilion with a terra-cotta tile roof and tall arches sits on the northeast side of the pool. This is the premier spot for weddings.

Opposite the pavilion Cobbledick took advantage of the widest portion of the site and laid out a ten-tier cascade, perpendicular to the main axis of the garden. Stepped paths lead up at either side of the cascade to another terrace of roses. After climbing these steps one is rewarded with a view looking down the rose-lined cascade to the reflecting pool at the bottom and its pavilion backdrop.

At this point I was more than satisfied – feeling renewed by our afternoon’s outing, but there was still more to explore. After walking back down the cascade towards the reflecting pool we continued downhill where parallel paths line a wide planting bed filled with tall shrub roses. On the right is another small maintenance building, designed in a similar style as the pavilion, and at the end of our walk we came to the main entrance to the garden, which is framed by roofed structures supported by eighteen foot tall sets of paired classic columns.

This cultural landscape is well used and loved by residents, and now after years of park staff cuts, residents have taken on the maintenance of the garden. A friends group meets regularly to deadhead and prune the 6000 roses, and they are doing a good job – despite the staff cuts Morcom was recently acknowledged as one of the ten best municipal rose gardens in the nation. Thank you volunteers.



  2. I found it to be a really great spot as well. The residents use it as a passage down to Oakland Avenue and a walking spot for kids; there were a couple of ducks there but I got the feeling they were not permenant residents.