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.

Consistency is Priceless

In the spring of 2016 my rose garden was a mess. I could scarcely walk the paths.

Tall climbers were slumped over after their tethers to trellises snapped. Overgrown bushes were tangled in each other’s canes. Ornamental grass was snarled in the roots of two of my favorite hybrids.

I had no one to blame but myself. For whatever reason, I hadn’t given the garden enough attention the prior year.

It took days of back-breaking work to clean everything up and get on with the routine business of weeding and fertilizing. With sweat stinging my eyes, I scolded myself for not practicing a basic rule of thumb from my college days. “Be consistent.” Somewhere in my Rubbermaid bins of memorabilia, I’m sure I still have the certificate my student newspaper advisor gave me to cement the lesson.

Awarded to Laurie Samsel for Consistency in Journalism

It was a made-up prize; an inside joke that memorialized my rough start. Although I turned in a stellar human interest story for my first byline, I followed it the next week with a half-hearted blurb about the college floral program. Mr. Byrd, a fearsome redhead who once played in the NFL, quickly scared the laissez-faire attitude out of me.

“This is pathetic, Samsel!” he boomed.

Since then, I’ve practiced consistency and extolled the virtues of it my entire adult life. It has served me, and those I’ve mentored, quite well. Sometimes it’s been simple. “If you’re going to capitalize a job title in this sentence, then do it all the way through the document.” Sometimes it’s been more complex. “You can’t apply policy this way today and another way tomorrow.”

Why I slipped up in the garden two years ago is a mystery. But untangling that mess is the reason I’m writing this blog right now. Otherwise, I’d likely be tackling my last big project before Christmas – wrapping the stack of gifts hidden in our guest room.

I love the holidays. I love them even more when everything is ready. Over the weekend, my husband and I wore ourselves out getting presents ready to send to distant loved ones and personalizing cards with handwritten notes. I was so single-minded about the whole affair that I didn’t spend a moment thinking about today’s blog post. In fact, I completely forgot.

This morning we stood in line (twice) at the Post Office to send everything on its way. Afterward, somewhere in the dairy section at the grocery store, I remembered that I should be publishing today. For an instant I thought, “It doesn’t matter. I’ll skip this week or write something tomorrow.” Dual images of my neglected garden and Mr. Byrd’s fierce scowl sent me to my laptop five minutes after the groceries were put away.

After that, how could I write about anything but consistency? It’s not a value with much pizazz, but it sure saves you trouble later if you practice it now. Presents? Eh, they can wait. Consistent presence to honor your commitments? Priceless.

Consistent Gardening Saves Trouble