Prickly


I love roses.

It's easy to be attracted to roses, hard to love them. Roses are particular: they want just the right amount of fertilization; they need frequent watering; they can't be planted close together or in soil vacated by a previous, failed rose; if they're not pruned correctly, they can become as gangly and overgrown as a blackberry bush. And, of course, they have thorns, some of them quite vicious.

I have learned the hard way to be careful around roses. The thorns on roses exist for a simple reason: to fend off potential threats. They guarantee that anything larger than a beetle will think twice before attacking a mature rose. Those who wish to enjoy a rose's beauty and aroma in the safety of their own homes must take great care in removing the stem from which the trophy flower bursts forth, or risk punctures which could easily become infected.

As particular as roses can be, they're a hardy flower. Other beauties of the plant kingdom last for weeks; properly cared for, a rose can be in bloom for six months or more. That does mean feeding, watering, and pruning it with the same patience and persistence needed for a bonsai tree, but I think it's well worth the effort. From the moment they begin budding, I enjoy monitoring their progress toward full bloom, and once they are in bloom, they bring me delight every time I gaze upon their profligate beauty.

Roses in bloom adhere to the adage "Anything worth doing is worth overdoing." Some roses bloom sparingly, but spectacularly:



Others bloom copiously, with more buds always waiting in the wings to take the place of those that wither:



And let's not forget the tea roses, delicate-seeming miniatures that live happily in pots:


 
The tea roses are special cases. The red ones were a Valentine's gift from me to Amy. Once their store-grown flowers had wilted, we set the plant out on the patio, where it stayed through the rainy months, to be joined soon after Mother's Day by the pink tea rose, a gift to Amy from my mother. I cut them back at about the same time, and for nearly two months, they were just unimpressive greenery growing in pots. Eventually, new buds began to appear, until now they are growing in size and beauty, striving for the overachiever label like any other rose in our garden.
 
I cut our old rose plants back on Presidents' Day. Some handled it well, including the late arrival rose we planted at the end of the summer last year:
 
 
Unfortunately, in three or four cases, I seem to have gone too far, cutting the rose back to the root stock. These roses have put out long stalks that keep growing, becoming longer and leafier all the time, but never show a sign of budding:


 
This highlights the symbiotic relationship between flowering roses and human beings. Like bananas, roses propagate through cloning. Someone has to graft a hybrid rose onto a plain root stock rose, one that grows robust stalks if left to itself, but never flowers. In the case of our non-flowering roses, I appear to have cut back the plants below the graft level, leaving only the root stock behind. We've removed two of these completely, replacing them with newer plants that are gracing our garden with cascades of flowers. There are still two we've been waiting on, hoping they'll bud; but our patience is wearing thin. These root stock roses will be extracted soon, replaced with more productive plants, and next year, I'll be careful with the pruning.
 
Why do I love these roses so much? Why not tulips, daisies, dahlias, lilies, irises, or any of the other flora that grace gardens with fragrance and color? I've been giving this some thought, and have come to a conclusion: of all the denizens of the plant kingdom, roses are, to me, the most like human beings.
 
Neglected, they are resourceful. They continue to grow and blossom, though they take on a feral appearance after awhile. Tended, they prosper, but only with the right attention. Overdo it and they suffer. Underdo it and their flowers wilt before blooming. When tended properly, they flourish, heightening the display, improvising whole new configurations of flowers that dazzle the eye. Through it all, they are the prickliest of domesticated flowers, rewarding the incautious touch with stab wounds that can leave scars. But to those who have the patience to wait on them, to feed and water them from day to day, to cut back their flowers as soon as they wilt, and their stalks when they are finished flowering for the year, they bring delights to the eyes and nose that are without equal.

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