Rose Rules

If you’re looking for the key to a fulfilling life, look no further than the garden.

It’s an intimate place, the garden. Personal. Cloistered. Out there, it’s just you and Mother Earth and the Good Lord working hand-in-hand to create your vision. Maybe it’s an impressive plot of homegrown vegetables, a bed of flowers filled with fragrance and color, or an apartment balcony garnished with potted plants. Whatever it may be, the garden is the friend that will tell you what you truly need to know.

My garden – the Garden of the Rocks and Roses in the high desert of Nevada – reminds me every day of the values that infuse my life with meaning. You’ve probably seen similar thoughts elsewhere. So have I. Pop culture is chock full of ready-made lists and generic advice. The difference is that I have a deep and abiding trust that these are my truths, born in the early morning chores and quiet contemplation that comprise my life as a rose whisperer.

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Share Love. Every morning I gaze at my garden, or stroll through it, or putter in it. I bathe myself in the vibrance of the colors, the shape of the delicate petals, and the old world fragrance. Most days I’m so filled with love that I literally can’t hold it all. Gladly, I give the surplus back through devoted caretaking, kind words, and heartfelt prayers. The circular process reminds me of the quote on a ceramic plaque a dear friend gave me years ago. “Love. What goes around comes around.” It surely does.

Show Gratitude. This isn’t only about counting your blessings. It’s about feeling thankful for everything – the good, the bad, the in-between. Sometimes in the spring, when all the rosebushes are heavy with blossoms, I can’t help but raise my hands skyward in praise. It’s easy to be thankful then. It’s not as easy when pesky aphids or a stubborn fungus threaten all that beauty. In those moments, my commitment to gratitude is tested. More often than not, I come to a place where I’m genuinely grateful for the experience. From hardship comes knowledge and strength, and that better prepares me to handle or perhaps even prevent the next challenge. As for the in-between, when the roses are sleeping through the frigid winter, I’m grateful for the rest and for the joy of anticipating another glorious spring.

Have Hope. When I’m on my hands and knees mulching or turning fertilizer in the soil, I’m doing more than gardening. I’m practicing the art of hope. What is planting and tending a garden if it is not hope? Hope that the objects of your affection will survive and grow. Hope that they will eventually yield your heart’s desire. Hope that you are actually the wise gardener you aspire to be. Along with hope come faith, optimism, and cheer. You can’t really have one without the others. At least in my garden you can’t.

Listen. Although I talk to my roses, I don’t expect them to carry on a conversation. But I listen nevertheless. They tell me what’s happening in their own language. Lush, green foliage and abundant, colorful blooms speak of health and vibrance. Withered leaves and a disappointing flush send up a red flag that there are problems to resolve. Sometimes I don’t know the resolution. That’s when I seek out those with more experience and listen to their wisdom. Listening and speaking may be partners in good communication but, without a doubt, listening is the better investment.

Be Consistent. Gardening isn’t a sporadic hobby. Even when I don’t much feel like pruning or mulching or fertilizing, the work still has to be done. Gardens can go to pot, and the quickest route is neglect. A day off now and then won’t make a big difference. Take a month or a season off, and you’re buying trouble. Trust me. I’ve done that. Catch-up was more work than I ever bargained for. Consistency, it turns out, is the gold standard.

Persist. When consistency alone doesn’t produce the desired result, persistence is the next best tool in the box. I have a pair of climbing roses that taught me that lesson. After a particularly brutal winter, the canes were black with a malady called, appropriately, winter kill. When I talked to the local nursery, they were surprised I had even tried growing those particular roses in the dry desert since they are native to perpetually wet climates. The verdict was to dig them up and plant something else. I cut back the dead canes, but the crowns and the roots wouldn’t budge from the ground. A few months after I gave up trying, I noticed new shoots springing from those crowns. The roses came back with fiery resolve and the next spring produced more tiny, yellow roses than I had ever seen.

Respect. In the garden, I believe that every bush has an equal right to water, sun, and my attention. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small, spindly bush that produces a handful of roses a year or a large, resplendent one that produces dozens of blooms throughout the spring and summer. They are all deserving of my love and care. Likewise, I believe that every other living thing in the garden deserves respect. Generally I finish my morning chores before the bees come out but, if they start showing up while I’m still puttering, I acknowledge that my turn is over and give them the space. My husband feels the same. He is reluctant to finish off our paver patio for fear he will trap one of our many resident lizards in the hidey holes they’ve dug in his work area. It may seem amusing, even ridiculous to some, but the past few days both of us have waited patiently in our deck chairs while white-tailed rabbits chomped on apples that have fallen from our trees. We are no more important than the bees, lizards, bunnies, and other wildlife in our garden. Every life is God-given. Every life matters. Moreover, from the wildlife’s perspective, the garden isn’t ours anyway. It’s theirs.

Give Back. For all intents and purposes, you can re-read “Share Love” and understand the meaning of “Give Back.” Every bit of care I give to my garden comes back to me in spades. The same is true when I take the time to share photographs of my roses on social media. There are people – perhaps not many but some – who tell me time and again that my posts bring cheer to their day. Especially in these turbulent times, when our lives are restricted and our futures uncertain, making someone smile is not such a small thing.

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I may have gleaned these insights from my garden, but it should be no surprise that values like these easily apply to every aspect of life. No matter what hat I may be wearing at any given moment, I can fall back on my personal values to guide me. They are, in fact, instrumental to me as a writer, amateur photographer, and family historian. They help me daily to be the best wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend that I can be. Perhaps most importantly, they lead me as a citizen of this amazing planet.

I am shamelessly proud of my garden and endlessly grateful for the role it plays in my life. It’s not just a spot in the yard where I grow roses. It’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Powdery mildew. Black spot. Rust. These are not conditions a rose enthusiast wants to see in the garden. They’re all forms of fungal disease and, unfortunately, my roses were hit this year.

I’d like to say that the first thing I did after discovering there was a problem was to identify the source and fix it. You know what they say about any kind of hole you want to crawl out of. Stop digging, for crying out loud.

Alas, my first reaction was to literally cry out loud.

When I collected myself and did my due diligence, I realized we needed to reprogram the entire drip system. The roses were getting watered in the early evening along with everything else on the property that likes a little drink before bedtime. Roses prefer their brandy in the morning, thank you very much. It turns out, evening binges leave them with a nasty hangover and vulnerable to any sleazy fungi loitering around looking for an opportunity to stake their claim.

Reprogramming the drip system probably sounds easy-peasy … if you’re high-tech savvy. When I was a kid, adjusting the water meant moving a sprinkler from one side of the lawn to the other. Now it means entering numbers into something that looks like a bomb detonator. You have to know what sequence affects which drippers and whether to include said sequence in Program A, B or C. One mistake can foul up the whole thing.

For a 65-year-old who’s still trying to figure out how to stop text alerts after 9 p.m., the prospect of reprogramming the drip was paralyzing. Here’s where I pause and extend a thousand thank yous to my husband who did battle with the blasted thing for me … twice!

Arresting the source of the problem was only the first step, of course. Then I had to play surgeon and remove the diseased foliage. Next I tapped into my inner fireman and sprayed the bushes with some healing mist (an organic brand that promises not to kill bees or animals or humans along with the sleazy fungi).

All the while this was happening, I couldn’t help but notice that my roses seemed oblivious to the drama. They calmly continued to produce new foliage, grow new buds, and take my breath away with spectacular blooms. They continued to live their beautiful life despite the ugliness that threatened them. It was like they inherently knew what we humans must see repeatedly in memes and on coffee mugs, posters, and t-shirts before we realize the genuine wisdom embedded in it.

Keep calm and carry on.

It might seem impossible to live a beautiful life with the overwhelming level of ugliness that exists in our world today. I don’t need to waste space here to list the maladies. You know them by heart.

The question is, can we also teach our hearts to memorize the goodness that surrounds us? Can we still grow, learn, and bloom despite the drama? Can we spend every day spraying our personal healing mist on those around us to make their world just a little more beautiful?

I’d like to think we can.

All Part of the Experience

During the blooming season, posting pictures of the most stunning roses in my garden is an almost daily task. It’s like keeping a diary, and I admit to enjoying the compliments from friends and family.

Yet, I sometimes feel a little guilty. Deceptive maybe. Rarely does anything with a less than 90% perfection rating (on my personal scale) ever make it to social media.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love each and every bloom in my Garden of the Rocks and Roses. It simply means that my admirers see only what I choose to share.

Recently, a swath of new and aging roses on my Pumpkin Patch bush captivated me so completely that I posted pictures of it more than once. Friends responded with thumbs up and flattering comments. What they didn’t see, in close up, were the imperfections on some of the individual roses.

I see the imperfections daily but, to me, it’s all part of the experience. I learn from every flaw. Why are the edges of those petals black? Why do these leaves have dark blemishes? What should I do? Figure out the problems, resolve them, and keep moving forward, of course. Not surprisingly, the flaws make the near-perfect flowers seem even more miraculous.

Like so many lessons in the garden, it’s the same in the whole of life.

My husband and I celebrated the 45th anniversary of our first marriage on July 6th. You may think that’s an odd way of describing our annual commemoration, but it’s accurate. We were married on that day in 1974, divorced on Christmas Eve 2001, and married again on August 16, 2008.

When I announced the milestone on social media, I didn’t explain all that. I focused on the highlight, not the lowlights. My post began, “45 years ago today I married the love of my life.”

Sitting on our patio, chatting with visiting relatives around the time of our anniversary, someone asked whether we also celebrated on August 16th. Or, he wondered, have all the years just merged together.

Merged, I said. Most years I don’t even remember the August date.

Like all marriages, we’ve had wonderful stretches of nothing but smooth sailing and full hearts. We’ve also had periods of acrimony and hardship, and differences that threatened to end us forever.

Yet, even when we went our separate ways, the love was never really gone. We were on a Ross-and-Rachel-esque break that gave us both an opportunity to explore the world on our own. I won’t speak for my husband but, once I got over the initial shock of the split, I grew and flowered in life-changing ways.

Looking back, I wouldn’t trade anything about our relationship, nor would I wish for a do-over. I’m grateful for every thorny problem that needed to be resolved as well as every moment that rated 90% or better on my personal perfection scale. The flaws have truly made the near-perfect moments that much more miraculous.

It’s all part of the experience.

Pollyanna Grows Up

When I express my almost unshakeable optimism, people who don’t know me well call me Pollyanna as though it’s a gentle joke to wake me up. I know the tone of voice and the body posture. The world isn’t all sunshine and roses, they seem to say.

What these well-meaning folks don’t realize is that I don’t want to live in a world where sunshine and roses are reserved for days that are otherwise bright and beautiful. We need them on dark days most of all.

Nothing could prove my point more than last week’s spring freeze.

It came after our weeping mulberry tree was covered in new shoots. After the roses began to sprout buds. After the lilac bush was topped with panicles of small, purple blooms and the wisteria was dripping with clusters of lavender blossoms.

We knew the frost was coming. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much we could do about it except pray it wasn’t a killer.

Two days after the freeze, I walked around the meandering paths of our backyard checking on every tree and shrub. I was glad to see that our lilac and the bushes in my centerpiece rose garden survived with only minor injuries. The weeping mulberry and wisteria were not so lucky. Except for a few protected branches inside its umbrella-like crown, all the new growth on the mulberry had succumbed. The wisteria blossoms drooped sadly, withered and deflated from the unforgiving chill.

Admittedly, I was feeling a bit deflated, too – until I walked around the edge of the crabapple tree in the middle of our secret garden.

You’ve heard of moments that take your breath away. Well, this one did. I audibly gasped with delight and joy. Hundreds of healthy, yellow buds covered the vines of my two Lady Banks roses, and several groups of the tiny beauties had already opened in sunny splendor.

As I wrote in my November 5, 2018 post, “One Brief Shining Moment,” this rose variety isn’t even supposed to do that well in my planting zone and is quite vulnerable to frost. Yet there it was, blooming gaily like nothing grim had happened.

In that sublime moment, I felt just as glad as Pollyanna in Eleanor H. Porter’s 1913 children’s book and the 1960 Disney movie. I could clearly hear her happy voice in my head.

When you’re hunting for the glad things, you sort of forget the other kind.

Certainly, I wish the mulberry and wisteria had fared better in the sudden cold. But just as certainly, I came back into the house with a smile on my face and a spring in my step because of the Lady Banks.

I was introduced to Pollyanna at the age of 6. I loved her immediately, probably because I already saw myself in her. Today I’m grown up. Very grown up, in fact. I’m 65. But I love Pollyanna as much as ever. And I’m never going to stop hunting for the glad things.

Pollyanna? Yes, that’s me. So glad to meet you!

Lady Banks Roses 5.5.19