In my Autumn garden I was fain
To mourn among my scattered roses;
Alas for that last rosebud which uncloses
To Autumn’s languid sun and rain
When all the world is on the wane!
Which has not felt the sweet constraint of June,
Nor heard the nightingale in tune
Broad-faced asters by my garden walk,
You are but coarse compared with roses:
More choice, more dear that rosebud which uncloses,
Faint-scented, pinched, upon its stalk,
That least and last which cold winds balk;
A rose it is though least and last of all,
A rose to me though at the fall–Christina Rossetti, An October Garden
My granny had a lovely rose garden. I suppose it was only about twelve feet wide (it seems bigger in my memories of it), circular, and two-tiered. The roses were well-established, and–in the gentle English climate of my childhood–seemed to bloom year-round. The colors were magnificent–the blood-red Ena Harkness; the delicately pink Queen Elizabeth; the deeper blush of the Princess Margaret; lovely white and yellow ones whose names I can’t remember; and the gorgeous pale lemony-to-pink Peace rose. Even more enticing were the fragrances–bold, subtle, and–well–rosy.
It was my second-favorite part of Granny’s garden, pride-of-place going to the raspberry and gooseberry patch all the way at the bottom of it. The very young me would disappear down there at crack-of-dawn and gobble up the ripe berries, before the birds had a chance to. Although Granny would always say that it must have been the birds, after all, who’d denuded her fruit bushes.
I never fessed up. But the twinkle in her eye told me she knew.
Granny’s house was sold after she died, and has been on the market once (that I know of) since then. The photos of the interior on the listing page were incredibly depressing. And a “Google Earth” satellite view of the property since shows that the enchanted garden of my memories is gone forever,
Or perhaps not. The experience bred in me a lifelong love of flowers and nature which–I suppose–I’ve been trying to recreate ever since. Gardening-wise, though, I’m a bit of a walking disaster. Still, with the help of a few good friends on both sides of the Atlantic, I’m making progress.
This year’s find was the discovery of David Austin roses in the US, whose provenance and delivery I wrote about in this post earlier this year. They’re absolutely beautiful, and I will be working hard to make sure they make it through the winter in one piece. They’ve joined several rather undistinguished (other than their quite nice fragrance) Home Depot roses of bygone years, a couple of Jackson and Perkins numbers from last year, and my impenetrable and spicy-smelling Rosa Rugosa hedge (I added a couple of Rosa Alba shrubs this year, but they’re not blooming at the moment).
Still, and all, my roses are holding up pretty well this year. Summer was disgustingly hot and humid. (Remember, I’m a Brit. Any time the temperature exceeds about 65ºF, I start to sweat like crazy** and find it impossible to proceed with outdoor exercise of any sort.) My roses don’t much like such conditions either. But we’ve been gifted with a rather pleasant late summer and early fall, and a few of them have revived themselves and taken on a new lease on life.
So I’m not quite as depressed about the whole “October Garden” thing as was Christina Rossetti, another treasure of my childhood. To be clear, I like the “broad-faced aster” which she considers coarse in comparison to the roses. (My mother always called then “Michaelmas daisies.) The hedgerows and ditches are full of them at the moment, as they are with one of the prettiest wildflowers around here, the Evening Primrose.
But I couldn’t be more pleased about the roses. It makes me happy to be around them now, and I especially delight in the promise of next year, of Spring, and that the cycles (including my own) will continue.
Do you have stories about flowers that are special to you? Please share.
**Granny would never have described it that way. Her view was that, “Horses sweat. Men perspire. Women merely glow.”