Once I got a note from Malcolm, in Florida, asking if I wanted a cutting from his grandmother's white rose. He moved it from Pennsylvania down to the Orlando area and after a time, decided that the rose really wasn't too happy. So he made a series of cuttings for his friends and then shoveled pruned Grandma's rose. I was thrilled to get a piece of her rose here in Bellemaison and it's done well. And it's white. Other than that, Malcolm can't tell me much about it and he has a PhD in horticulture. And so these things go. We share these sensual embodiments of friendship and fulfillment with each other and year after year, try to remember them in winter and dutifully stalk them in summer, on recon for aphids and mildew. How is it we get so attached? Why do they mean so much?
The Romans were smitten with roses, to the point that their infatuation became idolatry. Julius Caesar popularized wearing rose chaplets in public to camouflage his premature baldness. Nero spent 6,000,000 sesterces on roses for a dinner party--a sum that would pay one full Roman legion for an entire year. Heliogabalus created to the rose petal drop, causing rose petals to flutter over the dining room as his guests feasted. The Romans grew 'Campania', described by Pliny as the most famous; 'Milesian', a vibrant red named for a Greek town on the Aegean; and 'Praeneste', a longer blooming variety that gave them roses well past the season. Their cultural dispositions toward roses are still held today, with some roses, 'Peace', selling widely still after being introduced 70 years ago. It's said that 'Peace' is the most famous rose of our time. Today, the hybridizers give the roses names for people and places--John Paul II just got his rose, a white, highly-acclaimed recent release of Jackson Perkins. I grow 'Barbara Bush', a tall, sturdy, forgiving pink hybrid tea. And of course, with global distributions networks what they are in 2007, I can have lovely, inexpensive roses of any variety in a vase in my kitchen twelve months of the year. Read that: South America.
The French do things today with roses that I do not see anywhere. They acknowledge the rose as a component of the good life, the life to be lived. And to see a red rose in bloom on a July day in Paris is a sensual experience practically unparallelled. Is it the light? Is it the red? The Chows and I grow the same rose here in Bellemaison, but it's not the same. Just isn't. The Empress Josephine made it her life's work, turning her avocation into a vocation, to grow and catalogue all existing species of roses in perhaps the most famous rose garden of all time, Malmaison. She scoured the world for new and unacquired species and as she had certain connections, ships laden with roses from far and wide enjoyed diplomatic immunity on the high seas, giving them safe passage back Josephine as her husband, Emperor Napoleon waged war. Ships and navys came and went but Josephine's roses remained untouched to thrive and flourish at Malmaison. She engaged Redoute to make drawings of each species and variety, such drawings now having become art treasures. Josephine and Redoute made one of history's all time most notable gardens, with immaculate illustrations and botanical records that exist to this day, but she still died young when she caught a cold at a party. And so this is life, then as now.
I grow 'Miss All American Beauty' for my mother. I grow the White Rose of York and The Red Rose of Lancashire. Yes, the same icons of Tudor England. I have 'Quatre Saison' which grew in Pompeii. I have 'Coeur d'Alene', a hot pink, crinkly leaved, tissue paper rose named for my beloved hometown. I have one whole bed planted in purple roses, for the National Champions Portland Pilots Women's Soccer Team. The two lions that stand guard at the garden gate are Bill and Clive, the coaches of the team. Clive is gone now, too; early; from cancer. But his roses remain and this year, they will bloom again in fragrant reminder of how dear and how unique each season of life is. And what grace we get with notable and special people and experiences in our life. So I think of you today.
And when the fall comes and we prune each rose back, strip it and shroud it with dirt and pine needles, the Chows and I will huddle up together and wait for the winter snows as the wind howls around us. But we'll remember.
The 'Kan EWA