Tulsa's most popular horticultural attraction is located at 21st Street and Peoria in the heart of historic Mapleridge. In 1909 the isolated tract of land, accessible only by wagon trails, was condemned by the city for a park site. At that time it was considered "too far out in the country" and early Tulsans considered the purchase price of $100 per acre a foolish move and doubted that the 45-acre site would ever be a valuable asset.
Known as the Perryman's Pasture, it had earlier been a portion of a 160-acre allotment given to Helen Woodward, a Creek Indian, by the Five Civilized Tribes Indian Commission. In 1909 the City of Tulsa acquired the property from Helen's father, Herbert E Woodward. Helen was a minor, age fourteen, when the land deal was made. Herbert had acted as her guardian and sold the property without her consent. In 1925 Helen Woodward Slemp (Mrs. S. H. Slemp) decided to test the sale of her allotment. It became the subject of litigation in the Oklahoma Supreme Court. After four years of court battle, Mrs. Slemp lost her case to the City of Tulsa.
Today the 45-acre park boasts a wide variety of horticultural delights, including rock gardens, an English herb garden, a terraced Italian Renaissance rose garden, a Victorian conservatory (Lord and Burnham), a three-acre arboretum and an azalea garden with over 15,000 azaleas. The park provides a haven for citizens and visitors alike.
The Tulsa Municipal Rose Garden was constructed with hand labor and teams of horses as a W.P.A. project in 1934 and 1935. In 1937 the Better Homes and Garden Magazine presented a bronze plaque to the Tulsa Garden Club (one of Tulsa Garden Center's founding affiliate organizations). This honor was considered to be an extraordinary achievement since it was given just two years after the first plantings. The Rose Garden has continued to receive high praise over the years. English Rosarian Harry Wheatcraft pronounced it the finest in design and maintenance that he had ever seen in the United States. In 1961 it was featured in Great Gardens of America.
The Rose Garden's five terraces begin at the top of a gentle slope and end 900 feet west at Peoria Avenue. English ivy-covered stone walls and steps connect the different levels. Pools or fountains are found on most levels. Junipers, honeysuckle, euonymous, abelia, Buford holly, Chinese horn holly, deciduous holly, Mugo pines and magnolias are all found amidst the wide array of roses in the gardens. The boundaries of Austrian and Scotch Pines and arborvitae provide a dramatic backdrop to trellis roses and the rose beds.
Presently there are approximately 6,000 rose plants representing nearly 250 varieties in the Rose Garden. The roses bloom from May until frost (usually in November), but the peak bloom period is from mid-May through June and then again in October. The most popular variety of rose is the hybrid tea, offering an exceptional variety of color, fragrance, flower size and shape.
Named after the wife of William Shakespeare, who was renowned for her love of gardening and her cultivation of culinary herbs, this formal herb garden was started by Tulsan Jewel Huffman in 1939. For many years the Anne Hathaway Herb Garden Club, and affiliate of Tulsa Garden Center, fully maintained the herb garden - watering, weeding, transplanting, labeling and cultivating for the public's enjoyment. Different varieties of interesting herbs and their aromas may still be found in the Anne Hathaway Herb Garden today. In 1982 Tulsa Parks horticulture department took over maintenance of this unique garden. Exhibits include scented geraniums, sages, mints, basil, summer and winter savory, lemon thyme, burnett, rosemary, marjoram, oregano and tarragon. Herb specimens are labeled with their common and botanical names for easy reference. The herbs bloom from May until frost. Visitors are encouraged to pinch off just one leaf to smell or taste.
Just north of the herb garden are two rock gardens, dating back to 1930. Honeycombed limestone from northeast of Tulsa was placed in a naturalistic manner to define a watercourse and to give the effect of a number of small springs. Rock pathways, benches and footbridges were designed to help visitors enjoy the walk. Native oaks and hickories provide luxurious shady areas for park visitors and walkers. Statues of nymphs, cupid and Pan, are the focal point of the upper rock garden. Seasonal flowers bloom year round to complement the serene water and rocks. The lower rock garden features thousands of azaleas, which were planted in the late 60's and early 70's. The azaleas converted a badly eroded hillside into the "jewel of the park". Mid-March to mid-April each year the azaleas dazzle visitors with their spectacular colors. Joined by the fabulous show of the redbuds, whitebuds and dogwoods each spring, the lower rock garden is one of the most recognized areas of Woodward Park.