Nestled on the edge of the forest that is the Wesleyan Arboretum, near the art pad outside the Murphey Fine Art Building, is Wesleyan’s newest spot for rest and reflection - The Fernando La Rosa Memorial Garden.
The idea for the garden was originated by Frances de La Rosa, Fernando’s wife of 32 years and Wesleyan professor of painting and drawing. After the death of her husband, Wesleyan professor of photography (1998-2017), Frances envisioned the garden’s location specifically because of Fernando’s love of photographing nature and their shared love of gardening. She wanted to help bring a place of tranquil solitude to Wesleyan students and the local community. The garden is an interactive yet intimate space for gathering, remembrance, reflection, and healing.
This space honors Fernando’s love of teaching, his students, and nature. The garden’s design reflects Fernando’s travels, his affection for photographing stone, and the love of Japanese gardens he shared with Frances. It is constructed exclusively from reused materials. Flowers and plants were either collected from the couple’s home garden or kindly donated by local gardens. The overhanging trees of the arboretum give the garden a secluded, peaceful atmosphere. There are different types of architectural stone remnants collected from around the globe. The benches were created from stone and seashells and various other materials.
The garden’s Wall of Memories and Gifts was inspired by the Wall of Gifts at Highgrove, the private residence of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, and incorporates several architectural remnants that have been given to the Royal family throughout the years. In addition to artifacts from Fernando’s personal life, La Rosa’s wall also includes materials from all over the world given out of love for and in remembrance of Fernando including ceramic remnants from students, a brick pulled from the Berlin Wall, and a circular paver representing a camera aperture, a nod to Fernando’s love of photography.
A number of workers helped make the memorial garden possible. From Wesleyan’s physical plant workers to local gardeners and friends to Wesleyan students, faculty, and staff, the project was a collaborative effort. “People wanted to know how they could contribute to Fernando’s memory. This project came about through contributions of love, labor, and materials. It is very much a garden of gifts, not just a wall of gifts but an entire garden of gifts.”
Frances noted that during the several months she worked in the garden, people walking in the arboretum would stop to ask about the space. She would explain that it was a memorial garden for her late husband. “Occasionally, someone would share a story about the loss of someone very dear to them. I hope this space will serve as a memorial for more than just Fernando. It can be bigger than that. It is for everyone.”
Although the memorial is complete, donations are still being accepted. Those who wish may designate gifts to Wesleyan College for the Fernando La Rosa Memorial Fund.