Years later when Mum died, my siblings and I looked at the rose. “You take it,” they said to me. And it felt like an honour, to be bequeathed this special rose, one that linked these two loved people no longer standing with us.
I took it and tended it carefully – pruning, fertilising, watering, loving it. For years it bloomed and brought Mum and GD to my mind. Then suddenly it sickened and died. I mourned the yellow Rose of GD. Felt the loss of my mother and brother again with the plant’s death. I tried to say that was silly, thought about replacing it, of buying another rose. But you can’t replace people and somehow it felt that was what I was trying to do. Either that or assuage my guilt at failing to keep Mum’s Rose of GD alive.
I’m not really a huge fan of roses (despite it being the flower I share my middle name with). I favour productive plants – veggies and herbs and fruit trees – and Australian native plants. Roses don’t fit comfortably into either of these categories. The veggies, herbs and fruit trees I grow are for sustenance and practicality. The Australian natives harken to my love of the Australian bush and my desire to bring birds and insects to my garden, and to have waterwise no-fuss plants. Roses are glamorous rather than practical. I consider them showy, which is not a compliment. They require pruning and fertilising and reward only with flowers and sometimes scent. It seems not enough. Yet somehow I have two growing in pots. Both are white-cream-pink, and both are divinely scented. I grow them in pots because I feel they don’t really belong in my garden. They’re doing okay in the pots and, despite their obvious glamour, surprise me with their toughness. One grows bright orange-red hips – rosehips – that I could do something useful with – make rosehip tea perhaps? Or feed them to my horses as a friend does with rosehips from her garden? But I tend to deadhead the roses before they get the chance to form hips, thus prolonging the flowering and forgoing the hips.
By deadheading the rose – cutting off the spent flowers – it is ‘encouraged’ to grow new flowers. All flowering plants produce flowers to produce seeds, sometimes encased in fruits. That is the purpose of a flower; a stage in the reproductive life of the plant. Flowers are the plant’s pathway to the next generation, even if the person growing the plant thinks the flower is the end in itself. While you continue to remove flowers, the plant continues to make new ones, at least for as long as the season permits. But once you leave the flowers alone, a rose will go on to produce a fruit encasing seeds, unless it is a cultivar of rose that has had this tendency bred out – we’ve been manipulating our domestic plants for a long time to get just what we want from them, selectively breeding for particular characteristics. Rosehips are rarely our reason for growing roses in our gardens these days, but they have been eaten for centuries. Rose petals too are used for perfume and flavour. You can make rose syrup from the petals. But I find the easiest way to use the perfume of a rose is to cut a bloom or three and put them in a vase to scent the room. Perhaps I like roses more than I admit. Perhaps they can hold a place in amongst my veggies, herbs and fruit.
And so it was that I found myself, on a whim, looking at roses for sale at my local nursery. I had in mind to buy a yellow rose, one with tight buds and a lot of fragrance. It felt like time to do so. A homage to Mum and GD, for if a garden can’t be a place of homage and love, then what use is it really? Surely it must do more than just feed us physically. I found a rose in the ‘yellow’ section that claimed to be fragrant and suitable for growing in a pot. I put it in my trolley and, en route to the counter, detoured via the pots and selected a medium-sized grey pot. I added a bag of best-quality potting mix to my purchases.
At home I potted my new rose into its grey pot and put it on top of the limestone retaining wall, near a dwarf apple and beside the grey-green leaves of a sage bush. It slipped into its position as if it had been grown to be just there. Standing back to admire it and contemplating removing the tag, I noticed the rose’s name for the first time – Close to You. I left the tag on. It seemed appropriate.