The War Of the Roses

THE noted wit Dorothy Parker, who had a word for every occasion, once remarked rather sorrowfully:

Why is it no one ever sent me yet

one perfect limousine, do you suppose?

Ah, no, it's always just my luck to get

one perfect rose.

Personally, I would settle for a rose every time. A perfect limousine is functional, but they all look the same - whereas each rose is unique, and the best are a reflection of perfection itself.

My observations are presented with an affection bordering on love, because this affection has been earned through many years toiling in my Belfast garden where good summers are often characterized by rain rather than sunshine. But even in the soggiest summer the beauty of the rose blossoms shines through. The near-perfection of some nursery roses grown by expert gardeners is something to which I aspire - occasionally with success - but I am most at home with my own roses in the back garden. Like humans t hey have their blemishes, but there is a special quality about each of them.

The long search for beauty in the rose garden begins, allowing for the Irish climate, in late winter, with a severe pruning. At this stage it seems impossible that anything of beauty could develop from such apparently unpromising beginnings, with the rose stems looking a little forlorn in the darkness of an Irish winter. But spring brings its own rewards with a heightening of spirit and a brightening of the evenings. Soon the mysteries of mulching and manuring give way in early summer to the presence of the first buds in a promise of bouquets to come.

At this stage, the wars of the roses take place, and I march around my garden like a warrior ready to do battle with any greenfly, blackfly, or other intruder which dares to invade the rose garden. My wife is always amused by the opening scenes of this battle: scowls in the kitchen, the search for the proper insecticide repellant, the heave-on of dungarees and wellingtons, the sallying forth, the triumphant return, knowing that the enemy has been repulsed - for a few days at least.

After every battle, in life or in the rose garden, there is a sense of peace, and the peace of a midsummer rose garden is wonderful to behold, with fragrances wafting on the evening breeze and the poetry of roses in the mind. The names of the roses themselved trip off the tongue - Sarabande, Paprika, Chanelle, Danse de Feu, and other exotica - but some of the greatest rose poetry of all belongs to Robert Burns:

O, my Luve's like a red, red rose

That's newly sprung in June:

O my Luve's like the melodie

That's sweetly play'd in tune.

Rose growing, even for an amateur, is surrounded by the sweet music of affection, even on a damp evening when the raindrops glisten on the petal or in the early morning when the sun chases the shadows and the colorful glory of a rose garden opens to the warmth of a new day. It is in these moments that all the digging, pruning, mulching, and insect battles of the past seem worthwhile. And in such moments it is not hard to think of that old message which my grandmother used to share "One is nearer God's he art in a garden, than anywhere else on earth."

Incidently, Dorothy Parker also noted:

Four be the things I'd been better without:

Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.

But she did have a "perfect rose."

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