Old Egypt, new blooms

San Jose's home to ancient wonders and, this month, delicate roses too
Julie Chai and Lisa Taggart

The air in San Jose's Rose Garden region carries a sweet scent this month, as 3,500-plus rosebushes hit their peak bloom in the district's namesake park. The quiet neighborhood of bungalows and Spanish villas at the city's north end juxtaposes this fleeting spring celebration with the West Coast's largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts ― a contrast offering a day of discoveries.

To sample the scent of spring, gather picnic goodies from the deli counter and espresso bar at Zanotto's Family Market (1970 Naglee Ave.; 408/294-9151), owned by the Zanotto family for 42 years. Then take your sniffer and a picnic to the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden (free; Naglee at Dana Ave.; 408/277-4661). Blooms, both heirloom and newer varieties, radiate around a central fountain in the 5 1/2-acre garden, and old redwoods anchor an expanse of grass.

Locals, including former neighborhood association president Chris Johansen, say the area has maintained a friendly ambience despite many changes since its days as pear-and-prune orchards. "It's urban, yet still feels small town-like," he says.

Across the street from the rose garden―and in direct contrast to that small-town feel―lotus columns, giant sphinxes, and a temple mark the 77-year-old Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum & Planetarium (closed Mon until Jun 6, then open daily; $9, $5 ages 5-10; 1342 Naglee; www.egyptianmuseum.org or 408/947-3636), home to mummy exhibits, a replicated tomb, and many Egyptian treasures. The museum's newly renovated planetarium regularly screens a film examining the lost Roman Mithraic religion.

Out back, the year-old Peace Garden revels in the season right along with the municipal garden's roses. With an open-air temple and moon-viewing dais, the small garden features papyrus, clary sage, and doum palms―flora important during ancient Egypt's busy 18th Dynasty (roughly 1550-1307 B.C.). Now those are some heirloom plants!

Rose Garden ramble

San Jose's Rose Garden district is bordered by I-880, the Alameda (State 82), and Forest and Hester Avenues. The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden are on Naglee Ave., which runs through the neighborhood's heart.