A Gardener's Love Affair With A Rose

My first face to face meeting with a rose took place more than 30 years ago when I was a young girl and my mother asked me to weed the garden in the back yard.

With my dandelion weeder, a dime store trowel and a bag (for the weeds) in hand, I decided I would work fast in order to finish in time to play kickball with the neighborhood kids. On all fours, I pulled up everything that didn't appear to be a flower.

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Working quickly, I knew that I would complete the job with time to spare for a refreshing glass of iced lemonade, until I felt something jabbing me in the back. I tried to feel what it was, but each time I tried to get up it pricked me more deeply. I called for help, and one of the other kids came out and released my shirt and the skin on my back from the thorns of a long-reaching tendril where a deep red rose was unabashedly in full bloom.

That initial encounter should have warned me about roses' true nature. But because they are such astute chameleons, I was easily deceived for years to come. For example, I remember feeling inspired by their overwhelming beauty each time my mother created a floral centerpiece in which they participated. Their colors, their textures, their shapes and of course, their scents, literally took my breath away. During those moments, any negative feelings I had about this species was wiped off my emotional radar screen.

I could go on and on about the interludes I have had with roses over the course of my adult life. Let it just be said that our relationship has not been an easy one. I have pampered them, caressed them, thrown them out of my garden, tried disciplining them and even spent years in therapy over them. Had I only known years ago what I know now about this magnificent yet idiosyncratic species, I could have saved myself a lot of frustration, money and time. So let me pass on a few words of hard-earned wisdom on how to live successfully with roses without losing your sanity.

  1. Don't plant lots of roses together; otherwise Japanese beetles will gang up on them.
  2. Treat roses as if they are a guest in your home. Don't expect them to pitch in and help take care of themselves. You will definitely have to clean up after them.
  3. Do expect that roses will get black spots, Japanese beetles and white flies. Use no chemicals. For Japanese beetles, I have a special formula of ammonia that I keep in an old coffee can. I love picking those nasty critters off the bushes and dropping them into my homemade concoction. Also, buy plenty of ladybugs and let them swarm all over your bushes, getting rid of some of those bad guys.
  4. If all of the insects and fungicides become overwhelming, just cut the darn bush back hard (even in the middle of the summer) to alleviate your frustration.
  5. Finally, accept roses for what they are; they are one of the most beautiful flowers ever created, but as with a gorgeous yet high-maintenance woman, that beauty does not come without a price.
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