Rose garden's brilliant fall color is a match for its history

In the coming weeks, fall color will spill across the Carolinas and leaf peepers will flock to the mountains for the best views.

But you don't have to leave the Charlotte area to catch brilliant hues. In fact, you can head to an unexpected place: a rose garden.

During a recent trip to the McGill Rose Garden in First Ward, I learned that in the Carolinas, roses have a second showing – in October.

“It's like springtime again,” said Garrett Ladue, owner of the Garden Shoppe & Gallery at the garden at 940 North Davidson St.

The nearly 2-acre property boasts hundreds of varieties of roses and an equally beautiful history, he said.

In the early 1950s, Helen McGill started the garden where her husband had just bought a fuel and ice company. She wanted to beautify an industrial section of town. She started with two bushes. She planted along fences and railroad tracks until she had more than 500 rose bushes in the fuel yard. The fuel company closed in 1975, and the garden is now a city park run by a nonprofit foundation.

McGill Rose Garden is a free urban escape and unique piece of local history that newcomers and old-timers might not know.

Shortly before opening his store in spring 2007, Ladue had driven by the garden for 25 years without ever stopping. He found the place when looking for a spot to sell his big stone fountains (another business of his). His inventory now also includes the work of local artists.

McGill Rose Garden is a popular spot on Mother's Day and in the fall, when little girls who've volunteered there come to be inaugurated rose princesses.

The garden – close enough to NoDa to claim that artsy 'hood – also holds a gallery crawl the third Friday of every month. The next one is Sept. 19.

More info: mcgillrosegarden.org.