Old City Cemetery is home to the largest public collection of heirloom roses in the Commonwealth of Virginia. There are over 425 different varieties planted throughout the grounds, representing all classes, habits, colors and fragrances of antique roses, or “Old Garden Roses”.

Our rose collection consists mostly of “Old Garden Roses”, and also includes roses introduced and popularized during the cemetery’s most active phase in the 1920’s through the 1930’s.  An “Old Garden Rose” (or heirloom rose) belongs to a class of roses that existed before 1867, when the first Hybrid Tea rose was introduced into commerce.

The original antique rose collection was planted in 1986 along the 800-foot remains of the Cemetery’s old 1860’s brick boundary wall. The first 60 varieties planted by famous rosarian Carl Cato, represent rose history from before 1581 through the 19th century, and include the full range of classes and colors exhibited by these ancestors of modern-day roses. These plants were gathered from all over the United States and Canada, as well as local gardens.

Since 1986 many other varieties of antique roses have been planted throughout the 27-acre cemetery.  Former Restoration Chairman and Cemetery Director Jane Baber White began planting an heirloom rose beside gravestones upon which a rose was carved.  Rosarian Margi Vaughn continues that work today.

The peak of rose bloom at Old City Cemetery is often in May, but we celebrate from mid-April to mid-May with our Antique Rose Festival.  Visitors will find continuous scattered flowers throughout the summer until late Fall frosts.  Even in Winter months, the great diversity of form and structure of many species is of horticultural interest,  appearing sculptural in the landscape.  Irrigation, compost, a regular feeding schedule and maintenance are provided as needed in season.

Most roses are botanically labeled at the site.  The large groupings of roses include the following areas:

  • Old Brick Wall (both sides)
  • Carl Cato Garden
  • Pest House Garden
  • Shrub Garden
  • Fourth Street Fence