I come from a long line of rose raisers.
This makes it sound as though there is an art to it – and there probably is – but I think rose raising is somewhat comparable to dough kneading and child rearing: the less over handling you do, the better things turn out.
My maternal grandmother’s roses were ramblers – they arched over the doorway of the old house and made their way to the edges of the windows as though to peek inside. Similarly, my grandmother was a little bit of a worry-wart, often spotted peeking out the window to check on us grandkids playing in the yard. The pink blooms were vibrant, and as a teenager I loved how they looked against the backdrop of all the peeling paint and rocks around the edge of the back porch where my grandparents sat to drink coffee, shoot the breeze and listen to the little yellow radio.
My paternal grandmother’s roses were a bit coddled, but they had strong roots. An energetic and industrious woman who worked at the Red River Army Ammunition Plant during World War II, she was also light-hearted and never took herself too seriously, often collapsing into fits of laughter at herself. Her roses were charming and random but well-tended and well-loved – much like her children.
My Mom’s roses have always been intentionally planted and properly tended, but certainly not coddled. She thought carefully about where and how to plant them and how to give them their start in life, but then she trusted them to grow and prosper.
She treated her children the same way, giving us all the tools we needed to be successful: the right growing conditions, a wholesome diet, roots planted in the right kind of soil – but then she expected us to bloom. She didn’t fuss over her roses and she certainly did not fuss over us. She also never hesitated to prune aggressively, and we could anticipate being very firmly set straight as well if we naively grew experimentally in the wrong direction.
For a very long time, I fought planting roses. It felt cliché, expected, pre-ordained, assumed.
I would grow great, lush tropical plants or interesting night-bloomers. I would choose exotics and bend them to my will. I would not be another woman fretting over her rose garden.
But of course, the roses found me.
We were a few years into living in The Good House. We’d battled the poorly planted (and far too ordinary) azaleas and we had pulled out the crepe myrtles. Things were beginning to look fairly neat and orderly, and our own footprint was becoming more evident in the yard.
One hot summer day, I came home to find my neighbor with dozens upon dozens of bare root rose bushes – still in their garden department packaging – laid out in the unrelenting sunshine on his driveway, which sloped toward our shared alley and back door.
Cash himself was standing at the edge of his yard surveying the plants with a mix of delight and bewilderment, and when I spoke to him, he readily enthused about the roses. He’d seen them being discarded by employees of a certain retail establishment and couldn’t stand it – whether on principal or the waste, I’ve never determined.
So he rescued all those roses from the dumpster under cover of night.
And there they sat in his driveway in the beating sun. Days went by and the roses remained on the ground in their packages, and I thought to myself that no matter what condition they were in upon their rescue, they were certainly deteriorating.Finally one day after it seemed all hope was lost for them to be salvageable, around a dozen sorry looking rose bushes appeared on my back doorstep. I didn’t ask for them, express interest, choose my preferred colors or favorite varietals… they just showed up.I wasted no time planting them – with their pitiful leaves, black rot and dried out roots. It was worth a shot, I thought to myself – even if it was a very long shot. Those plants didn’t look like they stood a snowball’s chance of survival.Cash never did plant any of the rescued roses, and as far as I know they eventually reunited with their long-lost brethen at the city dump.
Our roses, on the other hand, thrived.
And just like that, another woman became an accidental rose raiser.