It’s that time of year when everything is coming up roses – time to get our spring rose order ready for next season. It’s so hard to narrow the field down to the forty or so varieties we’ll carry at the nursery. We pour over the catalogs; which new varieties are “must-haves”; do we really need hybrid teas – they tend to be fussier, and less hardy here than shrub roses, climbers, ground-covers, or the can’t-kill-it-if-you-tried rugosas. We must have at least a few teas, though; when some people think of roses, they have pictured in their minds a tea-rose – the kind of long-stemmed perfect roses that are ordered in floral shops for special occasions. Are they disease resistant, and with clean foliage? Do they re-bloom? Are they fragrant? These are all things that must be considered when placing the order. I’d love to be able look at the garden with rose-colored glasses and find no skeletonized leaves ... it’d be nice if they’d develop a rose that is resistant to Japanese beetles. Oh, and let’s not forget the long-time favorites – ‘William Baffin,’ ‘Therese Bugnet,’ ‘Double Delight,’ ‘Westerland,’ ‘The Fairy,’ and ‘Knockout,’ a bright cherry-red, she’s a real looker, putting out nonstop from June until frost.
That’s not the description of ‘Knockout’ found in the catalog; it’s accurate, but it’s one of my own. I think it’d be fun to write rose descriptions; many of them found in the catalogs appeal to my corny sense of humor. There’s ‘Honey Perfume’ – “Bee it honey hued or appealing apricot ... it’s just bee-utiful.” In the mood for roses … or for something else? ‘In The Mood’ might be the rose you’re looking for then, because “nothin’ says lovin’ like a red rose … a really red rose that turns up the heat with big round petals virtually dripping with super-saturated redness. Each big buxom blossom holds that very same brilliance until they fall exhausted....” Rose enthusiasts, and classic rock fans will appreciate ‘Hotel California,’ a rose named after the Eagles song of the same name: “We’re ‘livin’ it up’ with this great large-flowered clear-yellow Hybrid Tea … it comes from the Orard family in central France … ‘such a lovely place.’ If you’re looking for long cutting stems, elegant big buds and glossy foliage, ‘you can find it here’ ... most ‘any time of year.’ So give in and say ‘welcome to the Hotel California.’”
Many roses are named after celebrities. There’s Julia Child, Barbra Streisand, Bob Hope, Judy Garland, and Ingrid Bergman, just to mention a few. ‘Elizabeth Taylor’ is “shocking deep pink with smoky edges. A showy star, Liz can wow ’em with her flashy hot pink colors, her shapely buds and her prolific production of long-stemmed beauties. And her long-lived flowers will draw a crowd of admirers. But keep an eye on your husband!” Dolly Parton boasts “big buxom full-figured buds and blooms sparkling with provocative orange-red color that’s saturated with a powerful perfume of sweet rose and spicy cloves. As with its namesake, she performs all the better when the hot lights are blazing down.” I wonder what Liz and Dolly would think if they read these catalog descriptions? Eleanor Roosevelt voiced her opinion on the matter, “I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: ‘no good in a bed, but fine against a wall.’”
There are people that purchase roses based solely on the name. A friend of mine helped me out of a bind when I returned to work after my second daughter was born by watching the girls until a slot opened for the baby at daycare. I wanted to repay her for her generosity. She would not accept money, so because she is a gardener, I gave her a nursery gift certificate. One of the things she chose was a bi-colored hybrid tea rose because of its name. Seven years later, “Double Delight” still flourishes in her garden, and with each bloom she tells me she is reminded of my daughters – who were a ‘double delight’ to watch.
I have Fairy roses in my own garden to represent my girls. I didn’t plant them for this reason, but because a co-worker calls my daughters “pixies,” I think of them when the Fairies bloom. The characteristics of Fairy roses represent my girls’ personalities perfectly – tiny, but tough-as-nails, and so very sweet … when they want to be.
One of the sweetest rose stories I’ve heard happened just a few weeks ago. A woman came into the nursery, and when asked if she needed help, said "I'll know what I’m looking for when I see it.” She found the roses, and purchased eight bushes of a single variety. Her grandfather had just died – he was her ‘Grandma's Blessing,’ the name of the rose she chose. The eight roses were just enough for each of his grandchildren to have in their gardens as a memorial to their grandfather.
Roses or not, gardens aren’t just a mere collection of plants. They are extensions of the lives of the people who tend them. Personalities, family, friends, and memories are reflected in many of the plants we choose to grow. I enjoy stories of sentimental gardens; I’d love to hear yours.