Mike Fuss attributes his love of gardening to his grandparents. As a child, he spent time in their garden picking Japanese beetles off the tomato plants. Even today, the fragrance of tomatoes triggers pleasant memories. His love for roses blossomed in his adolescence when he spent significant time in the Elizabeth Park gardens at Hartford, Connecticut. It was there that he walked through the park with the love of his life, Donna, who was his wife for 41 years. Donna, we’re sorry to report, recently passed away. Mike recalls their love affair fondly, "We would go over to the park for concerts or just walk through the rose garden. We just fell in love with the roses."
Elizabeth Park was left to the city of Hartford by Charles Pond in 1894 with the requirement that it be a public, horticultural park and be named after Mr. Pond’s deceased wife. The park is home to the oldest municipally operated rose garden in the country with more than 800 varieties of roses. It is the third largest All-America Rose Selections Public Garden.
After Donna and Mike married, they invested their life savings into building a new home. As a housewarming present, they received gardening books. The couple spent their nights by the fire, reading, and planning their garden for the spring.
After continuous research, they stumbled upon an ad from Jackson & Perkins. Mike still vividly remembers the rose scented ink. When the couple first opened the catalog on a cold, snowy winter night, the scent of roses filled the living room, and the inspiration for roses began.
This prompted the couple to buy five rose bushes that first year. Despite making many amateur mistakes, they still enjoyed gorgeous blooms by the end of the summer. After that first summer, they were hooked and never stopped adding rose bushes to the garden. As Mike remembers it, “The garden just grew on us”. At its peak, there were over 225 rose bushes in the Fuss garden. Today, Mike is pleased when families stop by the home to catch a glimpse of their beauty. The garden also serves as a gathering place for family events for Mike’s son and daughter and three grandchildren.
Mike and Donna’s passion for roses expanded when a Consulting Rosarian from the American Rose Society convinced them to exhibit at a local horticultural fair. They brought home several blue ribbons giving them confidence to eventually attend the National Convention in Boston where they took "Best Novice." Before long, the President of the American Rose Society suggested that the couple form a local rose society, and they did. The Connecticut Rose Society was formed in the Fuss’ living room in 1980. Mike was the first President, was later Treasurer and is still active on the Board of Directors.
Mike is currently also a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of Elizabeth Park, the group that raises funds and recruits volunteers to support the Park. He has also served as its President and Treasurer. He is currently the board member who oversees the rose garden care. Mike also serves as an American Rose Society Horticulture Judge and has been designated a Master Rosarian by the American Rose Society.
Going forward, the continued passion for roses helps to maintain Mike’s connection to his wife, Donna. He remembers her as “his parallel in mind and spirit”. You can enjoy reading Mike’s thoughts and observations in his blog about roses on PlantersPlace.com. It’s a fitting tribute to a lifelong appreciation of gardening and an almost 5 decade long love affair with Donna.