My first experience with roses was in my mother’s garden. For some reason, she only had one when I was younger. A lovely pink specimen that never got very large and only blossomed once a year–in June. This event was a moment to celebrate, and that joy overshadowed roses’ reputation for fussiness.
I didn’t learn about their notoriety until I was a teenager researching roses for a garden I started in my parents backyard. I never got very far because I soon started college. Between assignments, work, and then moving in with my boyfriend, I didn’t have time in that little garden bed. Then I moved north and spent a decade or so renting apartments. I grew herbs and vegetables in containers but hesitated to grow potted roses because I worried they wouldn’t survive our harsh winters. (This was before I knew there were pots specifically designed to withstand temperature shifts.)
For many years, having a rose garden was tied up with the dream of owning a home and working with the land. One of the first plants I adopted and added to our backyard was, of course, a small rose bush. In the spring of this year, my husband and I worked together to begin what is becoming our rose garden, and I brought in climbers, ramblers, and a variety I’ve been wanting for years: apothecary roses. They’re still small, but they’ll eventually produce many rose hips I can brew into tea.
As I prepared my many thorny friends for the winter by pruning, removing spotty leaves, and insulating their crowns for the impending cold, I kept some thick stems aside. I was reminded of part of what attracted me to roses in the beginning. They’re beautiful, enchanting, and bring happiness, but they also know how to protect themselves. I’ve always found their thick, spiny branches as beautiful as they are imposing. Working with roses is an exercise in care and mindfulness. Clumsiness and distraction lead to pricks or even some nasty scratches, especially as they grow large and long. Keep these, they whispered.
As I plan for improving the rose garden next year, I’m also making note of what I need to better preserve and prepare my harvest. I’m looking forward to making rose water for food and skin care, to drying petals and hips for teas…But I’ve also kept some thorns from my pruning this year. I can’t believe I never considered how useful those prickers could be for protective magic!
The nights grow colder. Each morning, a thicker layer of frost covers the garden. Soon, a blanket of snow then ice will replace that. I embrace the seasonal shift and the opportunity to rest from the physically demanding job of tending a garden, but I also look forward to spring and continuing to learn from one of my first plant teachers, the rose.