like all the dreamy-eyed notions in my life, i trace it back to tasha tudor’s enchanted pages in “the secret garden,” or to mrs. gutting’s greenhouse, the one where once upon a sticky cincinnati afternoon, she served me orange juice from a sweaty glass pitcher and pepperidge farm chessman cookies, all amid her potted red geraniums.
every some-day dreamer, when but a child, should be handed two such essentials: a copy of “the secret garden,” tied up in satin bow. and a someone who’s a dash of magic, a someone from another time. a someone who wears broad-brimmed hats and skirts to hide her knobby knees. a someone who leaps from an overstuffed arm chair to the bookshelves groaning behind her, to pull just the tome, and turn to just the page, running her calloused, garden-stained index finger down the lines of type, until she comes to just the words she will now recite aloud.
oh, wait, i’ve taken off on my reverie but not told you what it is i’ve dreamed of all my whole life long.
why, it’s rambling roses. roses that climb and twirl and dip and reach each morning for the moon. roses that make a nesting place for blue birds and persimmon-bellied robins. roses to get lost in. roses with names that charm me, names like mrs. dudley cross, prosperity, and lady waterlow.
as long as i’ve been a girl with curls, and storybook dreams tucked deep inside, i’ve been a girl who has plotted the picture frames of my life.
i’ve imagined gray shingled cottages, worn from salt and sea winds. i’ve pictured a kitchen plot, a potager as it’s so finely called, just outside my kitchen door, where thyme and sweet peas ramble. i’ve pictured a cherry tree, where bluebirds sing. and of course a garden path, a winding one, a bluestone one, that curls and carries me from cottage garden in the front to tucked-away whispery spot beyond.
and all along the way on that path, climbing up and over and around, there are roses by the dozens. old roses. roses of a certain vintage. antique roses, even. when it comes to roses, age counts. no new-fangled hybrids, bred to dash disease, bloom without perfume, not for me, no thanks.
i take my roses rambly, unkempt, with a mind of their own.
(i suppose one might find parallels between old grower and old growth there, but we’ll move right along rather than get locked in that floribunda-psychoanalysis.)
anyway, it’s been a long time coming, this faint attempt at the rose-petaled existence of which i’ve ever dreamed. problem is (or at least a portion of the problem), i seem to have propensity for picking houses with old trees, big trees. and one thing a rose will not have, thank you, is shadow. roses love the limelight, the sunlight, the basking on the beach that is a rose’s bed.
i’ve got one or three who don’t seem to have read that rule book. they grow in shade anyway. climb up the screen of the summer porch. poke their hot-pink heads out from under the arbor vitae branches, where at best it’s dappled light just before the sun drops low. oh, they’re stubborn ones. grow and bloom despite it all.
but out front, along the picket fence–the white picket fence, as if i need to point that out, don’t they come in just one hue?–i’ve tucked in a few–okay, six–roses that i’m counting on to do their rosy bramble.
i want roses like the ones i once passed for miles, on the stone walls that meander across block island, that step-back-in-time a ferry ride away from that wisp of a state, rhode island, where salt air and centuries have faded the roses’ petals to a tissue-paper pink i’ll not forget. nor will time erase one other snapshot in my head: the way they paid no mind to passing years. they just kept rambling, climbing, mounding, blooming. giving forth their poetry to all who stopped to notice.
i want roses that don’t stand tall. i want them loopy, bent and making way for bloom in all the oddest places.
i want roses that make me laugh, so determined are their gnarly branches, so unwilling to succumb to bricks or fence post, so intent on reaching sky. sticking necks out. making bold proclamation: i am rose, and i am punctuating the summer’s day with all the colors in my paintbox.
i want roses that make me drop to my knees, so filled with sacred message, with wisdom, that i can’t not walk past without a moment’s veneration, a moment’s study. soaking up the truth, the lesson, that the wily breath-taking beauty holds for me.
have you ever seen a rose that looks as if someone pulled out a watercolor brush, and dabbed a rim of lipstick red just along the petal’s edge? and how the throat casts sunshine glow, and the petals are the color of buttermilk, or an antique hanky, one you found in the drawer when your grandma died, and you were gathering up a few small things to carry home, to keep beside you, so on any given monday you might stumble upon them, and feel her there beside you, in the kitchen, in the bedroom, in the laundry room?
anyway, my old and not-so-old roses have been at work this week, while i’ve been working too. i’d not realized their time had come. but then i tiptoed out to get the newspaper, down at the curb, where the nice man tosses it at dawn, the nearly obsolete man, the last one, perhaps, to toss the curled-up paper on the reader’s curb.
i had just turned from scooping up the papers (we double our obsolescence, and subscribe to two), and i couldn’t help but be bowled over by the dots of pink and lipstick, the blush of butter running into dab of peach, the puckered lips that are a rose about to bloom.
there, rambling, climbing, reaching for the stars and moon and morning sun, were the roses i’d been waiting for nearly all my days and years.
it appears they’ve gotten on without me, just the way i take my roses. but now that i see their nodding gentle heads, their bashful show of perseverance, i feel obliged to tend to them today. to head out with tray of drinks for all. to offer talcum powder baths if that might be the thing that cures their holey leaves, as i do notice some bug is feasting on them too. has gotten to them first, while i carried on at my keyboard.
at long last, it’s that stretch of june where the roses bloom, take centerstage. for years and years, they’ve been off in the wings in all my dreams. and, as if by magic, with not nearly enough sunshine or attention, they’ve tiptoed in, to a place where i can’t miss their star turn. nor be too grateful for their willingness to grace me, ever after.
do you have old roses, old anything, that set you spiraling in reverie? a patch of magic in your yard that makes you swoon? did you grow up dreaming of a certain sort of garden path? what sparked your dreams? who sparked your dreams? did you have a mrs. gutting (pronounced good-ing, which, oh, she was, a librarian and gardener who lived in a real-life castle, one with secret stairs and turrets, one with lower gardens, and up the hill, the greenhouse tucked back behind the kitchen, where the pepperidge farm cookies never seemed to end)? (pssst, a hint to my mama, perhaps you’ll write to us of your mrs. gutting memories, you who were drawn to her as if water to a cactus, you who found your own brand of magic not in your most upholstered house, but across the way, in the castle where books and poetry and garden beds ruled the day….)
i’ll leave it there. happy blessed june, nearly summer solstice, nearly my firstborn’s 18th birthday. nearly father’s day. they do pack it in in june, now don’t they?