Mar. 24, 2015

Gardening, Purely For One's Delight - Roses!

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

“Remember that children, marriages and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.”

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Gardening is seductive, addictive, creative, disappointing, maddening, a total success and a complete failure…pretty much at ten minute intervals. Gardening, like age, sort of grows on you. Small children love gardens to the extent that they want to pull flowers right out of the ground and clutch them to their bosoms in their hot little hands, which seldom does the flower nor the front of the child much good. When I was small, we lived in Seattle in an apartment on Queen Anne Hill, my mother, my aunt, my grandmother and me. I would stand on a chair to watch my grandmother mix oleomargarine with yellow food coloring so it would look more like butter. No one was fooled. It wasn’t butter. We had a wonderful view of Puget Sound, which was pretty much filled with hospital ships bringing wounded soldiers back from the World War II battlefronts.

Seattle, where it’s drizzle-y most of the time, is a splendid place for gardens as plants really like it when the climate has been created expressly for their comfort. As a three year old, I got myself into a lot of trouble pulling up several cabbage rose plants that belonged to someone else when my Nana took her eye off me for a second. I had to apologize. As I was not sorry at all, this was one of those first major life lessons. How many times through our childhoods are we instructed to, “Apologize right this minute,” by some angry adult and so we learn to look suitably ashamed and say whatever it will take to get us off the hook. But I digress.

Several times in my childhood, I had occasion to plant cantaloupe seeds, right out of the cantaloupe, excitedly watch them put out green shoots, which sometimes culminated in blossoms and even in actual little cantaloupes. My mother, being somewhat nomadic, would pack us up and call the movers before I ever got to harvest my cantaloupe. But the gardening spirit was there, just awaiting the right opportunity.

In 1970, my husband, John, and I bought a big old house on a lot that is two-thirds of an acre, where wild flowering plum, California pepper trees, oleander, Chinese elms and mock orange grew and flourished with abandon. We had a jungle and we liked it. Not a lot of gardening took place as we were busy with four children and a succession of German Shepherd dogs. There were concord grapes growing on the pool fence and I learned to make grape jelly which was so good that people begged me for another jar. Begged! We gardened by the laissez-faire method, which worked quite well.

Some years later when most of the children had moved on to create their own gardens, our youngest daughter met Mr. Right and we were planning her wedding. She wanted her reception right here in her very own back yard. We looked at each other, John and I, and realized we were going to have to DO SOMETHING with the jungle as it was not going to work for a wedding reception.

Professionals were summoned, land was cleared, the grapevines had already made way for connection to the sewer (Oh, Happy Day!) and the century old rubber tree obligingly fell over, taking with it an ugly retaining wall. Now there was space to plant, to garden, to create, to be like Scarlett’s dad, Gerald O’Hara, in “Gone With The Wind” when he says, “Plantations don't mean anything, Katie Scarlett O'Hara? Do you mean to say that land doesn't mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it's the only thing that lasts.”

Well, OK, I wasn’t quite there, but I did know that I wanted flowers and I didn’t want all those Agapanthus Lily of the Nile things that the landscape guy told me he had ordered. I wanted roses. I wanted flowering plants…azaleas, gardenias, geraniums, anything but Agapanthus!  So we got roses, azaleas, gardenias and geraniums. Flowers!

We were clueless about these rose beauties, prey to spider mites, aphids, black spot and powdery mildew. I’d never even heard of powdery mildew. But I learned, my friends, and we have more roses than I can count, in gardens, in pots, and soon they will give us the first rose crop of the year, which will be more exquisite, more fragrant, more colorful, than anything man could possibly create… God’s design, God’s color palette, God’s creation, solely for our enjoyment. So we spray, we feed, we prune, we lavish care on our roses. Sounds a lot like what God does with us, doesn’t it.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5