Rose Garden to get new life as city removes dying pear trees

SAN JOSE — Bordering the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden were once breathtaking aristocrat pear trees that bloomed into a shock of white flowers in the spring.

But in recent years, the branches have blackened and leaves and blooms wilted as if singed by fire, caused by a destructive bacterial disease called fireblight, which is named after the burnt appearance it gives afflicted trees.

Parks department crews Saturday began felling the remaining rows of dying trees around the Rose Garden to make way for gingkos, Chinese fringe and Schmidt oak trees that will be replanted around the historic garden.

The city began removing the trees late last year and says it will complete the replanting by April, just in time for visitors to celebrate Mother’s Day at the Rose Garden on May 12.

“They were beautiful all those years,” said Mark Kenter, 65, who grew up on Emory Street next to the garden and has lived there for much of the last 60 years. “Nobody likes to see a tree die, but this is a life cycle that I think had to happen.”

The Rose Garden, which first opened in 1937, is a five-and-a-half acre park with 4,000 rose bushes of 189 varieties. The garden is maintained by the city, although a decade ago a group of volunteers stepped up to begin actively pruning the garden after budget cutbacks caused the park’s condition to decline.

The aristocrat pear trees, which were planted in 1996 with the help of neighborhood volunteers, generally have a 30-year lifespan, meaning they would have had to be replaced soon anyway, said parks facility supervisor Jeff Gomez.

Fireblight began appearing in the last decade and worsened in the last few years, Gomez said.

Diseased trees can be chemically treated, but the treatment is expensive and removing the diseased wood can be time-consuming, as tools need to be sanitized between cuts to prevent the bacteria from spreading, Gomez said.

The new trees, selected with community input by the city arborist Russell Hansen, will be more resistant to diseases and generally have a life span of 40 to 100 years, said parks manager Torie O’Reilly.

Gingko trees, which have fan-shaped yellow leaves, will be planted along Naglee Avenue, while Chinese fringe trees, which look similar to the pear trees, will border the other three sides of the garden.

Schmidt oak trees will be placed at each corner as “buffers,” said Gomez, to prevent diseases from jumping from one row of fringe trees to the next.

Workers will continue cutting down trees next weekend and the tree stumps will be removed in coming weeks, he said. The new trees will be three to five years old and take some time to grow in.

The dying pear trees are also on sidewalks in the Rose Garden neighborhood, although homeowners are responsible for removing and replacing them. Homeowners will need to apply for a permit before removing trees and can plant tree varieties approved by the city.

As crews worked on cutting down the trees Saturday morning, a small group of hobbyist woodworkers waited nearby to salvage the felled trees before they were fed into a woodchipper.

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