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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

No Wrong Color

Persistently, I try to take photographs in my garden that capture the joy of standing in its presence. No matter how much I work at it, no matter which camera settings or angles I experiment with, a two-dimensional picture is never going to make viewers see it the way I see it.

I think that’s what it must be like for people of color. They desperately want the white majority to see the world from their perspective. To be honest, I’m not sure that’s entirely possible, but it shouldn’t stop me – or anyone else – from getting as close as humanly possible to a 3D view.

My first real experience with racism was in 1966 at the tender age of 12. Tony Bellson and his sister, the adopted children of legendary singer Pearl Bailey, were the only Black kids in my Southern California elementary school. One day Tony asked me to go steady. I didn’t answer right away because I liked another boy, and Tony seemed to have a chip on his shoulder that I didn’t understand at the time. I asked a girlfriend what she thought I should do.

“He asked me, too,” she said. “I told him no.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because he’s the wrong color,” she answered as though it should have been obvious.

Writing this now, I’m still in that moment – sitting in a sixth-grade size chair, at a sixth-grade size table, looking up at the trusted friend standing next to me, trying to get my head around what was just said. Wrong color? Wrong color? What’s wrong about a color?

My next conversation with Tony was to say yes. It wasn’t because I liked him the way a little girl should like the boy she holds hands with on the playground. It was to prove to everybody who saw us together that there was no such thing as a wrong color.

Flash forward 13 years and suddenly I was a 25-year-old idealist looking for my first job in journalism. I applied at a small newspaper that served Portland, Oregon’s Black community. For whatever reason, the couple who owned the business decided to take a chance on me. I was over the moon to get my first writing job, and even more over the moon because it was an opportunity to do something I thought was important – help give a voice to people who weren’t heard nearly enough.

I was so excited, and naïve, that I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be. It wasn’t the writing that was hard. It was being accepted by the people I was there to write about. Simply put, I was the wrong color.

For once, I was the one who was suspect. For once, I was the only white person in a meeting room or an auditorium full of Black people. For once, I had to listen. Really listen.

Eventually, I earned the trust of our readers by producing high-quality work that shed light on issues I never would have fully understood without the perspective that particular job gave me. I talked to people directly involved in and affected by school desegregation, employment discrimination, suppression of human rights in prison, systemic poverty, the brittle relationship between the Portland Police and the Black community, the fallout of the Indochina refugee crisis, and so much more. I got to know men who walked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the streets of hostile southern states. I interviewed one of Dr. King’s daughters. I went to a National Urban League convention in Los Angeles and met national civil rights leaders like Vernon Jordan and Andrew Young. It was a heady time.

Four years after I was hired, and not long before I left to take a promotion at another newspaper, I invited my mother to a large community event sponsored by my employer. I’ll never forget a conversation I overheard between her and Charles Jordan, the first Black commissioner elected to the Portland City Council. He was unusually tall with rich, toffee skin. She was rather short with a milky complexion. He looked down at her, smiled broadly when she said she was my mom, and paid me the best professional compliment I’ve ever received.

“Laurie’s tough, but she’s fair,” he said.

He didn’t say, “She’s white, but she’s fair.” It was a color-blind statement. I was no longer the wrong color to be working on a Black newspaper. I was just me.

I’m pretty sure that most Black people who read this will nod their heads and think, “Welcome to my world,” because that’s what their entire lives are like – always trying to prove that they are more than the color of their skin. Nevertheless, I’m convinced my story of a young, white reporter living for a while in a Black world is worth telling at this critical point in American history. Speaking up is not an option for me. It’s an obligation … no, it’s a privilege.

You may not have the opportunity to walk down someone else’s path like I did. But you can take a lesson from my garden where nearly every bush produces a different hue. Among the roses, there is no wrong color. Just different colors. Each one is beautiful individually, but when growing harmoniously in one garden … well … they’re nothing short of breathtaking.

Be the Old Man

When I shared the first roses from this year’s garden on my social media page, a dear friend posted a comment that I’ve been turning over in my head ever since. Call her a gardener. The seed she planted has germinated and is about to bloom right here on this page.

Referencing the beauty of my photographs, she said simply, “The reward for years of hard work in your garden.”

Well, yes. Hard work usually does result in a reward. In my garden, it’s roses. In my writing, it’s a book or blog that touches a reader. In my efforts to be kind, it’s a grateful smile on someone’s face.

Simple, right?

Well, it was … until my friend’s words began to mingle with a recent declaration made by someone else I know.

At the end of a rather long conversation, we got around to comparing our respective purposes in life. I explained my intent to make the world a better place by being a positive force. He thought that was nice and all. A pebble tossed in the middle of a lake eventually produces ripples that reach the opposite shore. But it wasn’t enough for my conversation mate. He has visions of making a bigger splash. Ideally, the pebble he tosses will be more like a boulder.

While cleaning out flower beds this week – an exercise that inevitably sparks rumination – I thought about the different ways each of us impacts the world. Some of us are content if our ripples encircle our family and friends. Some seek opportunities to improve their community. Some would love to see their name in the history books if only they could come back someday and take a look.

Wait.

What if we could come back someday?

Before you dismiss the possibility, here’s my disclaimer. You don’t have to believe in reincarnation or an afterlife. Or that aliens might whisk you away and later bring you home to a planet that has aged while you haven’t. Or that time travel is possible.

The theory of how it might happen doesn’t matter. All you have to do is imagine you’re here, let’s say 80 years in the future. What do you want to see? How do you hope to live? What do you envision is different?

Maybe your heart’s desire is to finally see the natural wonders of this planet. Maybe you want to live in a world where cancer doesn’t claim the people you love. Maybe you envision great leadership that brings people and nations together. Or maybe you just want everyone to have enough to eat.

Close your eyes for a minute and think about what would make life great in the 22nd Century. It doesn’t have to be something from my examples. There are a million other things you could choose. The only caveat is that your vision must be something that benefits some or all of us and harms none.

Got it? Now imagine you have the power to make it so. How? By planting the metaphorical seeds that will grow your dream.

You want to see the natural wonders of the world? Work toward preserving them. You want cancer to be curable or, better yet, nonexistent? Support cancer research. What about great leadership? Be an example of great leadership now or lend a hand to organizations that nurture future leaders. Food? The ways you can impact the availability of food are virtually endless.

Don’t spend a single second fretting that you’re just one person. Only a lucky few have ever changed the world single-handedly. Remember, in this exercise, we have 80 years for our visions to unfold. Eighty years for my ripples of kindness to merge with other ripples and become the gold standard. Eighty years for great leaders to mentor greater leaders. Eighty years for your heart’s desire to materialize.

Of course, it would be magical if all the good we collectively want could appear before our eyes right here, right now. But shouldn’t we be working toward the world we desire anyway? Shouldn’t we want future generations to enjoy the fruits of our labor?

You’ve heard the Greek proverb. “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.” The unspoken message is that someday someone else will enjoy the shade.

Imagine you’re the someone else. Then be the old man. It’s that simple.

 

You May Say I’m a Dreamer

Spring in the garden is rolling out just as Mother Nature intended.

The daffodils, crocus, and tulips were the first to emerge from their winter sleep, dotting the landscape with pastel splashes of hope. As they took their last bows, the crabapple trees and lilacs burst onstage with showy displays of pink, magenta, purple, and white. Today the moonlight and lydia broom are happily hosting honeybees in their cheerful, yellow blossoms. Perhaps tomorrow the roses will bloom.

Every year I watch this gradual awakening in amazement. Every living thing in the garden knows its purpose and its time. It’s the most harmonious thing I’ve ever seen. It reminds me of a fine orchestra playing a classic symphony. The woodwinds, strings, percussion, and brass all have unique parts in the arrangement but somehow manage to blend together in consummate crescendo.

I’d like to say that this picture brings pleasant music to my heart and my lips – perhaps Pete Seeger’s 1962 Turn, Turn, Turn or John Denver’s 1971 Sunshine on My Shoulders. Normally, I think it would. But today it makes me sad – sad that the same sweet harmony I see in my garden is not likely to ever roll across humanity and push society forward in a way that benefits all.

All the hate and fighting that has tainted our world for centuries is finding fresh, new battlegrounds every day. Whether the issue is politics, religion, disease, natural disasters, power or money, humankind uses it as fodder for more division, more blame, more discord. It seems there is no appetite in this world for peace, or at least there is not enough hunger for it.

Even I – a self-described Pollyanna – am having trouble seeing a way out of the darkness that’s enveloping every corner of the planet. Each day it gets harder to look at the bright side of life, harder to share the joy that can still be found if we care to look for it. It’s disheartening, to be sure.

And yet, I persist. Because that is my purpose. I’ve spent most of my life trying to make the world a better place by helping others, writing stories laced with lessons, and otherwise letting my light shine. When God assigned me to this Earth, He put a pen in my pocket, a smile on my face, and a kind word on my lips. This is no time to throw away my tools and give up.

Like the plants in my garden and the instruments in an orchestra, I will continue to play my part. I can only hope that what I do – and what others like me also do – brings some measure of peace to this troubled world. Even if I write only one story that inspires someone, share one smile that comforts someone, or say one kind word that encourages someone, it will be worth the effort.

Maybe I’m ready for a song now. With thanks to John Lennon … “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”

For Opal

Winter is generally viewed as the rose garden’s season of rest and, therefore, the gardener’s.

This may be true for roses. The physiology of their purposeful hibernation reminds me of the grizzly and the groundhog. But it is not entirely true for the gardener.

In the high desert, where precipitation isn’t dependable, we keep a watchful eye on the weather. If it hasn’t rained or snowed measurably for a couple of weeks, we’re outside with the hose and watering can. If the wind scatters the mulch we so carefully spread in the fall, we’re likely to throw on a jacket and rummage around in the shed for a rake.

The roses don’t ask for this help. But they need it just as surely as they need pruning and fertilizer in other seasons. The key for the gardener is to pay attention.

The same is true for friendships.

It’s easy to respond when someone reaches out for a helping hand or a strong shoulder. How many of us have gladly sat with a friend during the grueling hours of chemotherapy, provided care for children or pets, cooked a meal, run an errand, or joined in a prayer chain at church or on social media?

But what about those friends who don’t reach out?

This month I lost a friend who I didn’t even realize was gravely ill. Oh, I knew she’d been diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. But the last time we talked about it, she was in remission.

Her occasional posts on social media in recent weeks didn’t hint that anything was amiss — an eagle atop a flagpole, an old photo of her and her husband on their anniversary, family memories. Not a word about her health. And I didn’t ask.

Then came the news she had passed away. On her 66th birthday.

My sadness was magnified by my unintentional neglect. In this day and age, there’s no excuse for silence even when hundreds of miles separate you. A text is as easy to send, a call as easy to make, when you don’t know someone needs you as it is when you do.

This is my apology to Opal for not paying attention, for not sending that text. It’s also my heartfelt thanks to her for living a life that reminded me and all who knew her that it is good to be cheerful and kind, calm and wise, and that hope and laughter are always in season.

Opal, your long winter is over. It’s always springtime in Heaven. See you there one day, dear friend.

One Beautiful Thing

George Burns is a lovely, striped rose my sister bought for me a decade ago during one of her visits to Nevada. At the time, she wanted one for herself as well. That is, until the owner of the local nursery said the bush wouldn’t produce the same colors in Oregon.

This past season, George Burns was among the first of my rose bushes to recover from a late freeze and produce a bloom. I almost missed it since the bud formed in a sheltered niche among some low, leafy canes. I spotted it on the 7th of June just after it burst.

To my surprise, the flower was not the splash of red and white I’ve come to expect from this bush. It was red and yellow – the colors the nursery owner predicted for Oregon growers.

It didn’t take long to figure out the reason. It was the rain – lots of it – that came to the high desert over the winter and early spring. Mother Nature changed the pigment of the petals much like an artist adjusts the pigment of watercolors by adding more paint or more water to the canvas.

I don’t presume to understand the science of how a flower reacts to moisture in such a stunning way. All I know is that it clearly does. When I looked at the same blossom after 12 days of clear skies, with only our drip system sustaining the bush, the yellow had given way to almost pure white.

Whether one prefers red paired with yellow or paired with white on a George Burns bush is of little consequence in this story. Rather, it is the simple understanding that what any living thing receives in the way of sustenance will surely color its existence.

Knowing this puts a profound burden on we humans, don’t you think?

If we understand that what we consume plays a big role in determining our health, doesn’t it follow that we should choose what we eat and drink carefully? If we understand that words and deeds make a difference in how we feel and whether we thrive, doesn’t it follow that we should be kind to ourselves and, likewise, speak and act with kindness toward others?

Yet, too often we don’t behave in a way that reflects this understanding. We don’t treat ourselves or those around us with the care we should. The upshot is that we don’t live the best life we can, and we miss opportunities to lift others up so they have a better chance of living theirs.

It’s not a failure per se. It’s human nature – especially when a thousand random things in a fast-paced, complex world affect our actions and reactions.

Still, wouldn’t it be lovely if we could slow down, if only for a little while each day, to make sure we do at least one beautiful thing for ourselves and one beautiful thing for someone else?

Like the colors of my George Burns rose, the result could be stunning.

 

 

Never Give Up – A New Perspective

About this time last year, I wrote enthusiastically about reviving a “little twig of a rosebush” that was struggling in our front yard (Never Give Up). It had responded to my attention by producing two small, yellow blossoms. I couldn’t wait to see what heights it might reach the next season.

Alas, the little twig remained a little twig throughout this past spring. It greened up when the weather warmed, but that’s all it managed to do. It didn’t sprout new growth. It didn’t create new buds. It seemed to simply be baking in the direct Nevada sun.

I don’t easily give up on roses, and I didn’t give up on this one. Carefully, I dug it up, potted it in premium soil mix, and carried it around back to my Secret Garden. Beneath the arching vines of a Lady Banks rose, I found a shady spot for it to regenerate. If magic could happen anywhere, I thought, it would be next to a statue of Little Red Riding Hood and a stepping stone stamped with the Frog Prince.

It took some time, but the magic happened. The little twig grew into a miniature version of the bush I know it aspires to be. Then, just as summer began to wane, it produced a bud.

I debated at length whether to get it back in the ground before the weather turned. Ultimately, I decided to let it winter in our guest room. There, it basks in the morning sun that streams through the east-facing window. It continues to sprout new foliage, and I’m anxiously waiting to see whether the sole bud will finally open.

As I light-heartedly wrote a year ago this month, the saga of my little yellow rosebush reminds me of the “never give up, never surrender” tagline of the cheesy Captain Jason Nesmith in the space spoof Galaxy Quest. It still does, but the passage of time has led me to another, deeper conclusion.

That little rosebush seems to know something most of us aren’t so sure of – its reason for being here. The purpose of its life. Its destiny. To produce a flower – a short-lived thing of beauty in the span of humanity but a source of joy for those lucky enough to behold it. A source of nourishment for the bees and butterflies that seek its nectar. A source of life carried on the wings of those amazing pollinators.

Am I saying that my rosebush is a sentient being capable of understanding its purpose on an intellectual level? Not necessarily but, if so, then it’s more advanced than we humans. Our intellect actually seems to get in the way of understanding our purpose. I’d like to suggest that maybe it’s not as complicated as we think.

What if our purpose, metaphorically speaking, is the same as the rose? What if we are simply here to create beauty, spread joy, and nourish each other’s minds, bodies and hearts in all the ways we need nourishment? What if our purpose is to send a life-affirming legacy into the future on the wings of the next, amazing generation?

And what if we never, for one minute, gave up our quest to fulfill that purpose?

Be Kind, Show Love

Some of the prettiest roses I’ve seen in my neck of the woods aren’t in my backyard. The Carson-Tahoe Cancer Center in nearby Carson City has dozens of bushes.

Many circling the hillside complex are polyantha roses – compact puffs of landscaping fillers that faithfully produce small blooms all summer. Because all of them are red, I like to imagine that the designer thoughtfully chose a particular variety named after the character Happy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Other bushes placed in a special garden and in beds near the main entrance comprise a pleasant mix of low-growing floribunda and taller hybrid tea and grandiflora roses. There are no name plaques but, in my walks around the complex, I’ve pondered how the different colors represent a range of warm emotions – love, sympathy, friendship, appreciation, joy.

You may think this is a surprising place to find comfort and peace – in this landscape surrounding an institution where very sick people come to receive sometimes very unpleasant treatments – but I’m not surprised at all. Every square inch of the property was intentionally designed to nurture hurting souls.

The building itself was designed that way as well. Patients receiving infusions sit by a semi-circle of picture windows looking out over the city or woodlands. Strategically hung birdfeeders provide hours of entertainment – because that’s how long some treatments take. Huge stone fireplaces in comfortable waiting rooms generate the best kind of warmth on chilly days.

And, most important of all, kindness circulates in the hallways, offices, and waiting rooms like the soothing smell of your grandmother’s kitchen on a Sunday afternoon.

I have to admit, I wasn’t particularly enamored of the place the first time I had to visit after receiving a diagnosis of early stage breast cancer. In the two years since, I’ve come to appreciate my visits and have willingly spent extra hours inside the building and wandering the grounds while supporting others on their arduous paths through cancer.

The lesson I’ve learned there is that, no matter how fundamentally dreadful the purpose of a place might be, it can still be surrounded by and filled with the best humankind has to offer. The question I’ve come to contemplate is why can’t the best of humankind be replicated in every home, every community, and every place of business on earth?

For a shining period in my 50s, I worked for an organization that was led by the most empowering leader I’ve ever known. He set an example of cooperation, teamwork, mutual support, and simply being kind to one another that was unmatched in my 37-year career. His primary rules for the office were “no mean, no loud, no negative.” His parting words (when the Governor wisely asked him to come and run his office) were “be kind, show love.” The fact that his approach worked was evident in the volume and the quality of our outcomes. Hands down, I did my best work there. I ended up transferring and then taking early retirement when his successor took the polar opposite approach to management.

Circling back to the question that sometimes keeps me awake at night, why does an inspiring environment have to be as rare as the mythical Brigadoon? What stops us from regularly bringing our best selves to our marriages, our parenting, our interactions with neighbors, and our careers? Why is it ever OK to be mean, loud, and negative? I honestly don’t know. But here’s what I do know.

If a fundamentally dreadful place like a cancer center can create an inviting atmosphere – one that exudes peace and compassion – then it can’t be that difficult anywhere else. I have the power. You have the power. We all have the power to fill our homes, communities, and businesses with the very best humankind has to offer. It’s not up to anyone else, and it’s as simple as my former leader’s parting words.

“Be kind, show love.”

The Joy of Pruning

Roses take care of themselves.

That’s what I used to tell people who admired my garden. After growing these classic flowers for 17 years, I’ve stopped saying it.

As it turns out, roses do need a helping hand to reach and maintain their full, beautiful potential.

Years ago in Portland, I watched our next-door neighbor prune his roses to the crown every fall. Every spring they came back with vigor. Perhaps I should have taken the hint but, when I began to grow roses myself, I didn’t want to start over every year. I wanted my roses to grow tall and lush and fill our backyard with color and fragrance. To that end, I shunned heavy pruning in favor of trimming off dead wood.

My approach seemingly worked just fine … until now.

This year I noticed that some of my biggest bushes generated very few blooms. Most notably, my Peace rose managed only half a dozen flowers. Its descendant, Love and Peace, struggled to produce two.

When I went hunting for reasons, neglect turned up as the likely culprit. I’ve always known that roses need air circulation. That’s why there’s plenty of room around mine. What I missed was the need for air circulation inside them.

So this week I’ve been pruning with newfound passion. I looked for old wood and for canes rubbing against each other. I created space inside the bushes by trimming in a vase shape as experts recommend. In some cases, I also pruned for height. I ended up with a truckload of debris and a joyful heart.

I won’t see the end result of my effort until next spring, but I’m confident I did the right thing. I’m sure of this not only because of the research I’ve done about roses, but because of all the relatable experiences that crossed my mind while pruning.

In every aspect of life, allowing things to get out of control brings adverse consequences. Some variation on pruning is almost always the first, most logical response.

Suppose you accumulate too much debt? Something has to give in order to pay it off. Most people go straight to their budget and start cutting discretionary expenses.

Suppose you’ve accumulated so many things that your home has become a cluttered mess? When you tire of it, you’ll likely go through the house sorting things into keep, sell, throw-away, and give-away piles.

Pruning is a must in large-scale problems, too. Plastic languishing in landfills? Reject plastic bags and take reusable ones to the grocery store. Man-made carbon upsetting the balance of nature? Reduce the emissions from fossil fuels.

Virtually everything we do in the garden and in life requires us to build and prune, rebuild and prune again. What I’ve learned this summer is that we shouldn’t be afraid to do it … and do it with the joy that comes in knowing you’re doing the right thing.

(Check with your local nursery or chapter of the American Rose Society to learn about recommended pruning times in your planting zone. Heavy fall pruning is not standard in most areas where freezing winter temperatures are common. In fact, it is not typically recommended where I live, but this year I felt the benefits outweighed the risks in my garden.)

Bloom Even If No One Is Watching

In the spring when I walk through my rose garden, I often feel overwhelmed with the abundance of blooms and explosion of color. I raise my arms in joyful awe while uttering delighted oohs and aahs that must make my neighbors wonder what’s happening on the other side of the fence.

This time of year the experience is much more placid.

The bushes are drifting off to sleep. The smattering of late buds tease me as they take their sweet time to open. I watch them daily like a mother bird waiting for eggs to hatch. Typically, I know where each and every one is incubating, and I’m poised to greet them when they burst into breathtaking splendor.

Despite my tender devotion, twice in the last week I walked right past hidden jewels.

On Monday, I was taking a second lap around the garden when a bright splash of red deep in a Sedona bush caught my eye. Two days later, as I was evaluating my George Burns for fall pruning, a white and red blossom tucked into the canes near the crown surprised me. In both cases, I whispered sweet nothings to the flowers and stroked the soft petals as though they might be the last I would touch in my lifetime.

If I had never seen them at all, it would have been a shame. But, I realized, only a shame for me. The roses may have basked in the shower of my adoration, but they quite obviously didn’t need it to bloom. They did exactly what they were born to do, and did it remarkably well, without so much as a glance from the gardener.

I wondered. Do I have as much humility? Would I spend time writing a blog and a full-length novel, growing flowers and taking pictures of them, if I didn’t expect someone to appreciate the result? Is it all about attention and approval? Or, as some say, is it really the journey that matters?

After deep reflection, I’m convinced it’s about the journey.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good pat on the back as much as the next guy or gal. I feel fulfilled when someone is moved by something I’ve written. The point is, though, I wouldn’t stop doing what I do if no one was looking.

In the hierarchy of life’s hallowed purposes, embracing our unique gifts is second only to sharing love. In fact, in its own way, exercising our gifts is an expression of love. Love for the source of the gifts – whatever you believe that source happens to be – and love for the singular soul you are.

Every word I write, rose I nurture, and picture I take contributes to my growth as an individual. I understand myself better, have more insight about the reason I’m here, and feel more at peace. With all that as the reward, I would truly be content to bloom unseen for the remainder of my days. In so doing, if I touch someone’s heart, all the better.

Thanks so much for reading.