Last spring my gardening guru mentioned that he was trying his hand with roses. (I think of him as Quickbeam, Tolkien’s hasty Ent, because he is tall with a booming voice and has been known to sing to trees.) When he tries something, he plunges in as deep as he can go. He ordered 50 or 60 own-root roses, especially those that were reputed to do well in shade. He put them all in containers, because his town does not allow front-yard gardens. The town even puts a limit on pots in front of houses, so the shade-tolerant roses went to live in his back yard. If they did well under his trees, he told me, he might want to transplant some of them to clearings in my woods.
Late in August, after I had forgotten the conversation completely, he called: “When would be a good time for me to come plant roses?” The next weekend, he pulled into my driveway with six full-sized rose bushes and two minis. Bales of organic fertilizer filled the back of his van. His full-time client gave me a resigned look from the passenger's seat and pointed to a rose bush when I brought him lemonade.
Quckbeam started digging holes, and I started carrying water. As the second rose went into the ground, another friend arrived — Rowan, as tall as Quickbeam and 20 years younger. We handed him a shovel. They made short work of roots and rocks that would have taken me weeks to clear. As they dug, Quickbeam recited the pedigree of each rose and instructed me on care and watering.
Bubble Bath, a Zone 6 hybrid musk rose, went in nearest the house, where I might remember to give it winter shelter. Three bushes went into the clearing under the power line — Country Dancer, a Buck rose, and two Albas, Celestial and Semi Plena, the white rose of York. Greenmantle, a sweet briar, and Bleu Magenta, a rambler, have the sunniest places beside the road, where they can climb into the trees. I found spots on the patio for the potted minis, Cinderella and Sweet Fairy. When everybody was settled, I dragged the guys inside for iced tea and made Quickbeam repeat the details while I took notes.
September can be hot and dry here. Drought is almost guaranteed if you have six new roses to water. Quickbeam is the consummate gardener, attending to the particular needs of each plant daily. I work more by benevolent neglect and random watering. Still, after such a noble gift, I did my best to keep the roses hydrated. In October the deer began feeding up for mating season. I noticed missing leaves on the roses, then missing canes. Celestial was eventually mowed to the ground. Quickbeam did a little more research and told me that, yes, deer do eat rose bushes in spite of thorns.
I put tomato cages around the roses. Wire frames can’t really prevent grazing, but deer don’t seem to like bumping their noses while they eat. The roses began to leaf out in March, even Celestial. By April Greenmantle grew as high as my heart.
Yesterday, the first blooms opened on Bubble Bath and Greenmantle. Bleu Magenta is budding, and the three in the shadier spot are fully leafed out. The mini roses came through the winter inside. Sweet Fairy bloomed for us in December.
Quickbeam has started more roses this year, overflowing his yard to the lawn of the group home where he teaches. Once his new rose fosterlings are large enough, he will find adoptive parents for them. He works with the deepest magic, nurturing and sharing the pure joy of being. His spell comes from legend: Johnny Appleseed roaming the wilderness seeding it with beauty. Ecstacy transcends struggle. Exuberance can transform surviving into flourishing.