Rose Garden Healing Veterans

Brendon Gearty and Jemison Gearty, 5 years old, work on the rose garden at Sahuaro Ranch Park. 

In wraparound sunglasses, a twisted goatee and black leather vest, the burly Bernie Kendall looks like a big, tough dude.

Until Robert “Tiny” Hogan rolls up.

Next to the hulking Hogan, tackle-sized, shave-headed, flowing Viking beard, Peoria resident Kendall almost looks like a high school kid.

On Saturday, Oct. 4, these two Harley-riding, vest-wearing members of the Veterans IV Veterans Motorcycle Association rallied up to Glendale.

They didn’t posse up at a bar, a greasy spoon or even a coffee joint.

They were hanging out at a rose garden.

It’s a healing thing.

Candy Sheperd was there at Glendale’s Sahuaro Ranch Park, helping bring her vision to reality, finally.

“Years ago, God put it on my heart that I need to start a healing garden for veterans,” said Sheperd.

Two decades ago, she and her husband Bill were founding members of the Rose Society of Glendale. They ran their healing garden idea up the flagpole with the  Glendale Chamber of Commerce, Glendale Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, Glendale Parks and Recreation and Mayor Jerry Weiers. Everyone thought it was an idea that should fly.

So Candy Sheperd called Tyler Francis of Litchfield Park’s Francis Roses.

The rose guru of the West Valley came through, big time.

“He brought a bus with a crew of 52 people in December,” Candy Sheperd said. 

“They planted 1,587 roses in four hours.” 

The plants should be booming and blooming in the fall. But this is more than just an aesthetic boost for a Glendale park.

The team behind the garden invites veterans to come to the garden, especially every at 9 every Saturday morning, when members of the associations will be on hand to guide newcomers and show them how to help prune, tidy and grow the garden.

Or leave them to enjoy the garden in solitude, as the case may be.

“A healing garden is a place where veterans can come and meditate, be with other like veterans,” Candy Sheperd said. 

She notes that the suicide rate among veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder is disturbingly high. And many veterans have a hard time “fitting in” when they leave the service.

“I wanted a place where they could meet, have a structured thing to do,” said Candy Sheperd. “They can come enjoy other veterans and have a mission.

“Being outdoors and gardening is healing.”

Tiny Hogan groaned at that.

“I joined the Army to get off the farm,” he growled, but with a grin.

Seriously, though, he’s not into gardening.

“I don’t like plants,” he said. “And they don’t like me.”

So what did he think when he heard about this healing rose garden?

“I was thinking I have a lot of people that would benefit from a place like this, where’s it’s a safe place,” he said.

He’s living proof  you don’t have to be a rose buff to get something out of this place.

“If they want to talk, they can. It’s a place to go. We have a lot of people that have a tough time leaving their houses,” said Hogan, a Desert Storm combat veteran who lives in Goodyear.

“There are days I don’t want to see nobody. Days I don’t like people.”

A few minutes later, Tiny Hogan had a rake in his hand and a smile on his face, as he helped prep the garden.

Kendall, a veteran of both the Army and Air Force who lives in Peoria, was crouched with a clipping tool in his hand.

“Combat veterans very often suffer from PTSD,” Kendall said. “With this garden, they can learn about roses, learn how to deadhead them, learn how to prune.

“It takes their mind off things. They can relax.”

Unlike his buddy Hogan, Kendall knows his way around a garden.

“I’ve always loved roses,” said

Kendall. 

Candy Sheperd believes that is what makes this place unique.

“There are a number of healing gardens around the country, but this will be the first one where roses are the primary focus,” she said.

“Most of the other healing gardens are vegetable gardens or plants.”

Though he’s not into most gardens, Hogan sized this one up and decided it was a good place to be.

“It’s kind of isolated,” he said. “It’s a comfortable place to come sit.

“It’s relaxing, to me.”

And he had an invitation for other veterans, who might struggle with the idea of being in a strange place around strangers:

“Just come and relax and watch.”