I planted a rose garden. Before the work began I imagined it to be a garden of gratification - the sweat of physically working, the payoff of color and fragrance, the hope for pure pleasure, the success of beauty.
I didn't know it would become a test, a battle of expectations, a process of understanding a relationship (expectations met or not). It occurred to me that I would have to allow the experience to run its course.
I read books on the subject: some dry scientific text, others loaded with photographs that both tempted and overwhelmed me (pictures of perfectly rendered landscapes). Then I found a book that was different.
So You Want to Grow Roses, with its basic cover of a simply drawn rose, caught my eye. Published in 1967, it contained detailed yet straightforward instructions and advice for planting and caring for these delicate plants. Unlike all the technically saturated manuals that inhibit rather than invite, this step-by-step guide felt manageable, digestible and human. It was intended for regular folk - hobbyist and the like.
I'm prone to approach projects with hasty strategies that rarely prove successful, and my natural tendency would be to buy a bush, stick it in the ground, add water, and hope for the best. But this book gave me a follow-the-recipe philosophy, a methodical approach. I read about optimal conditions - six hours of daily direct sunlight was a minimum. I read about suitable soils, how deep to dig each hole, and the correct amounts of food, fertilizer and water.
The southeast side of our barn gets a full day of sun, and has a direct unencumbered view from the dining room window. A plot of roughly 8 x 12 feet seemed a good choice. Digging up the sod I was careful to create good drainage. Peat moss was added. In went the roses. I choose river rock from a nearby creek for mulch and gathered bluestone from a hillside to edge the garden. A fence would be essential to keep out the deer that wandered through to eat just about anything. The groundhogs habitually fed on most of my plants, so the fence would need to go deep.
The book's author cautioned that even if all the guidelines were followed the rose bushes might not endure the cold or return the following year. She advised adding a blanket of dirt in late autumn would encourage a type of hibernation. She warned that there would be things beyond my control. By following some tried and proven steps one might be successful.
In the summer of 2008, I planted a rose garden and each April thereafter I watch to see what has survived the winter.