Saturday, November 27, 2010

Roses

I picked this red rose because its stem was broken. This particular plant has three admirable traits: pollen for insects, a pleasant scent, and prolific blooms. Many cultivated roses lack the former two, in favor of a cultivar dripping with flowers and multiple petals.

The cultivated rose lacks rosehips, which our native swamp rose (above) has. Having cut hundreds of multiflora rose bushes down and suffered many, many ugly cuts and thorn-splinters, I'm ok with that.

Swamp rose in bloom at a local nature preserve. Five petals, a wonderful treat of pollen, nectar and scent, rich rosehips in autumn - a perfect thicket only nature can create.

Two cultivated roses, one red and one yellow, were the only plants (except grass) that grew by our house when we arrived exactly five years ago. Since then, we've planted Carolina allspice, swamp rose, cardinal flower, closed gentian, burdock (oops, but it's ok, we used it once for a good tasting meal a few years ago and I now have a burdock tincture brewing), blue flag iris, wild ginger, and hearts a burstin'. We replaced the volunteer Joe Pye that a vole chewed up. Other volunteers are spotted jewelweed, bristly aster, mayapple, goldenrod, Virginia jumpseed, ironweed, shrubby dogwood, Asiatic dayflower. Less desirable are the Japanese stiltgrass and gill over the ground.

The yellow rose puts on about zero to three blooms per year. The red rose is more prolific with dozens of blooms. The red rose has much more personality as well. When it reaches window height waves in the wind. On moonlight nights, it regularly scares me - waking from deep sleep, the blooms appear to be peeking in the window. I picked Japanese beetles off the buds the first year, happy to have a beautiful plant near the house.

As our knowledge of native plants grew, we enjoyed the sympathetic recruitment of meadow plants around the house, bringing swallowtail butterflies and a succession of flowers. Gardening by neglect allowed the meadow plants to challenge the roses for sun and air circulation.

We had heard a nice story about it from our landlord - his father had insisted on nursing the roses back from death years ago. It didn't seem right to be ambivalent about this cultivated, non-native in this case. Nevertheless, with a rambling yard and ever-increasing vegetable garden the roses were ignored through several summers.

A year or so ago, Jared tried pruning the roses based upon a book's instructions, but the stems died back by 6" or more at each cut. Typically, he's an ace pruner, despite my initial shock at most of his pruning efforts - "Where's the plant?!" "Don't worry."

The natural world has its way, its strange way. We recently purchased an essential oil - we were seeking a relaxing scent and chose rose otto for its ability to "balance." I began reading Rosita Arvigo's Rainforest Home Remedies and read again and again about the physical and especially spiritual healing properties of roses.

Jared was right. This year, the red rose came back despite the pruning and the drought. And now, nearly December, the red rose blooms just when we are seeking its power.

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