In 1937, Nellie Broyhill, her husband, Marvin and their five children moved to Arlington from North Carolina. Seven years later, as World War II drew to a close, a Nov. 27 Time magazine article noted that cities across America were honoring their troops with living memorials.
Nellie, an avid gardener whose own yard on North Vermont Street boasted dozens of rose bushes, was already cultivating one such effort. That February, she had created the Arlington Rose Garden Foundation, with the purpose of planting a memorial garden at the forthcoming Arlington Hospital (today’s Virginia Hospital Center). The landmark would honor local war veterans, including her son, Joel, who would go on to become a Virginia congressman.
It was a complicated endeavor, hampered by funding and construction delays, but Nellie was undaunted. She enlisted donations from sources ranging from various local churches to the grand duchess of Luxembourg and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. The garden debuted in 1951 and relocated to its current spot at Bon Air Park in 1964, when a hospital expansion claimed its original grounds.
“What she accomplished was unheard of [at the time],” says Pam Powers, president of the Arlington Rose Foundation. “She was playing in a man’s world.”
Nellie’s bench—dedicated in 1968, before her death in 1977—sits west of a stone plaque honoring the 841 Arlingtonians who were involved in the war effort. It is a fine spot for people-watching. And a good place to stop and smell the roses.