Sue Casey of Portland, Oregon, wanted to do something to help the country heal after the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001. Her inspiration came two weeks after the attacks while sitting in her car in her church's parking lot. She looked out the window and saw a beautiful rose bush blooming. That's when the idea hit her. Roses are the national flower and a symbol of love. Why not plant public rose gardens at each of the September 11th crash sites as a living tribute to the brave souls that lost their lives there? The words "remember me" came to her, and she decided to call her effort the "Remember Me" Rose Gardens.
Sue's goal of creating rose gardens in New York City; Washington, DC; and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, is simple, profound, and based on her appreciation of the power of gardening. With a full-time job, kids, and pets, life can get stressful. "Gardening is such a release for me," she says. "When I'm upset I can go to the garden and relax. It's much better for me than reaching for the ice cream or chocolate," she adds.
Sue wants those who visit the "Remember Me" Rose Gardens at each crash site to have an experience similar to the one she has in her garden. She's even proposing that relatives of loved ones who died at the sites be given a bouquet of roses to take home in summer. Since hundreds of bodies were never recovered from the sites, the roses would be something tangible victims' families can take away as a remembrance of their loved ones.
Although there has been much red tape involved in getting permission to build the gardens, Sue, rosarian Michael Mitchell (vice president and East Coast representative), and her volunteer board have started test plots in New York City and Shanksville to trial various rose varieties, and are intimately involved in park planning at all the sites.
Rose breeders have come forward to help raise money to maintain the gardens. Nine roses will be named in honor of the victims of September 11th. A percentage of the sales from these roses will be set aside to fund the gardens. The first rose in the series, 'Firefighter', was introduced in 2003. It's a fragrant, red hybrid tea rose named in honor the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on that day. A second rose, 'Soaring Spirits', bred by Tom Carruth at Weeks Roses, was released in September, 2004. This cream, pink, and yellow climber is dedicated to those who worked in the Twin Towers in New York. Both roses are available through Edmunds Roses (www.edmundsroses.com).
Sue estimates she spends 3 to 4 hours a day working on "Remember Me" Rose Gardens. Often it's early in the morning or late at night after her family has gone to bed. She is particularly motivated to help the children of the victims recover from their loss.
Sue sees the "Remember Me" Rose Gardens organization working beyond the opening of the gardens. For instance, she wants to create more programs to help children understand how the garden can be used as a place of comfort during hard times. Partnership with the National Gardening Association (NGA) offered just such an opportunity: The Remember Me Roses School Garden Award, sponsored by Edmunds Roses and Messenger, will give twenty schools rose bushes (including 'Firefighter' and 'Soaring Spirits'), Messenger plant biostimulant, and educational materials with which to create peace gardens to commemorate the events of September 11th. These gardens will also integrate conflict resolution programming for kids.
Sue still feels the immense joy that she originally experienced when the idea for "Remember Me" Rose Gardens first came to her. "I feel it's a gift that was entrusted to me to bring to fruition. The joy is with me every day, through the ups and downs of life. I am truly the happiest when I am working on this project," she says.
For more information on Sue Casey and "Remember Me" Rose Gardens, visit www.remember-me-rose.org.
Article published on June 23, 2008.