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.

Do the Right Thing

If I want to start my day on a positive note, I often turn to my online gardening or rose enthusiast groups. When members aren’t posting pictures of spectacular blooms or jaw-dropping tomatoes, they’re sharing insights about how best to encourage those garden stunners.

I’m not necessarily eager to run out and douse my roses with a homemade concoction of molasses, kelp, powdered fish and apple cider vinegar. And I don’t have nutrient-rich fish tank water to occasionally replace a normal drip cycle. But I’m always fascinated by ideas that push the boundaries of my personal experience.

In fact, it’s only through the wisdom of others that my garden is as prolific as it is. Well, that and my own fearless ignorance when I first began the adventure. There’s nothing like learning from your own mistakes. But the wisdom of others is the corker.

How would my garden look today had I not hightailed it to my trusted nursery for advice when black spot disease showed its ugly face? I didn’t know what was killing my roses, and I lost half a dozen bushes to that dastardly blight before I was able to arrest it.

How many trees on our property might have perished if someone hadn’t finally told us that watering during winter dry spells is critical in the high desert? Coming from the wet Pacific Northwest, we always thought nature took care of itself in the cold season.

Now that I’m a more experienced USDA Zone 7a gardener, friends sometimes ask me for advice. I strive to frame my answers in a way that emphasizes “this is what I do.”

“In my garden, hydrangeas do best in filtered light.”

“Bayer Three-In-One is my go-to fertilizer, but I would consider others.”

“We set our drip system for 20 minutes morning and evening. There are different schools of thought.”

The idea that my way is the only way, or even the best way for anyone but me and mine, isn’t part of my thought process let alone my conversations.

Maybe that’s why I have such a difficult time initiating or joining discussions about the hotly debated topics in our increasingly hostile world. Once in a while I give it a shot, but it usually ends in a resolution never to do it again. Too often these kind of engagements degenerate into no-win contests about who is more wrong about this or that.

Wrong.

Because rarely is anyone indisputably, 100%, no-doubt-about-it right in verbal sparring matches about the best way to cure the world’s ills.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could address these thorny problems the same way my online gardening comrades share their perspectives? Admittedly, on occasion someone comes on a little strong. But, for the most part, members are there to learn from each other and help each other reach their highest potential as guardians of the soil and caretakers of nature’s majesty.

In the end, that’s what we’re all here for – to help each other. Right?

gardening rights and wrongs