This rose garden was first planted in the Spring of 1981, along the Des
Moines River in the Bentonsport National Historic District. It is
contained within the stone walls which mark the site of the original mill
pond; water was chanelled into the pond and through stone arches (one still
in place), creating a flow powerful enough to run the mills which lined
the river. The adjacent foundation (which now contains the Butterfly
Garden) marks the site of James Brown's five-story grist mill.
The garden was made possible, in part, by a grant of $1,130 to the Van Buren County Conservation Board from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust. Mr. Smith was a long-time benefactor of the Royal Gardens at Kew, England, and the Trust was established to benefit horticultural projects world-wide. The Trust, with headquarters in Scotland and San Francisco, was the only private foundation whose interest was primarily in the horticultural field, and Bentonsport and the Conservation Board were honored to have been chosen as recipients of a grant. Subsequent grants have been received from Van Buren Foundation, Hoaglin Foundation and Petals; Shell Oil Co. and state garden clubs.
The great flood of June/July 1993 inundated the garden for a period of 6 weeks. A few roses survived, but most had to be replanted. More roses, as well as perennials, are being added each year as funds become available.
Roses in the garden range in age from ancient (the Apothecary's Rose, R. gallica officinalis) to old-type shrub roses (The Fairy) to the modern Griffith Buck roses. Old and historic roses predominate; one of the most interesting is Rosa Mundi (R. gallica versicolor), a striped sport of the Apothecary's Rose. It was brought from a Syrian garden by an early Crusader and given to Fair Rosamund, daughter of Sir Walter de Clifford and mistress of Henry II. She was poisoned by Henry's queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, in 1176, and on her tomb in the Nunnery at Godstow in Oxfordshire is inscribed: "Here rose the graced, not rose the chaste reposes. The scent that rises is not the scent of roses."