I never promised you a rose garden



When we moved into our first brand new house, I looked with dismay at the bare ground, scraped of all topsoil by the developer’s machinery. Built on what had been a vast area of dry-land wheat farms, the two-story house stood as if braced against the prairie wind.

Late summer sun blazed high in the sky, and I felt like an ant standing on a giant frying pan. I tried to visualize a lush, green lawn, sheltering trees and flowers of all colors sending out waves of sweet perfume. But my senses only relayed a smell of dust and an unpromising scene devoid of any life.
My husband must have harbored the same thoughts. He put his arm around me. “Give it a year.” “Remember how our yard looked in the old place—how we thought it would never look good enough for us?”

In the old house, in a different climate, we had spent hours digging, watering and amending the soil in a yard that finally yielded to our efforts and produced vegetables for the table and flowers for our enjoyment. And then we had to move—again. I was tired of creating gardens for others to enjoy. And this time we faced another challenge: a semi-arid environment at a mile-high altitude.

A beautiful rose garden takes diligence, but the rewards go beyond the flowers you’ll enjoy. © Ridofranz

Nonetheless, we spent the following spring digging out and discarding worthless chunks of brown clay, ordering what seemed like tons of peat moss and topsoil, hauling wheelbarrow loads to the space we’d set aside across the front of the house for our rose garden. I dared to dream. At night, sinking exhausted into bed, I could see blossoms big as cabbages—roses with orange petals, bright red in the center; pure white roses standing beside tall blood-red blooms that reminded me somehow of lipstick on movie stars of the 1940s, decorated for their parts in the play. It will all come to pass some day, I kept thinking. Not this year, my husband kept reminding me.

Gardening takes patience, especially in a part of the country not known for lush, landscapes. During one especially hot day with the sun burning a yellow hole in a bright blue sky, I looked across an expanse of black dirt at my husband. He turned peat moss light as dust under the good earthy compost to keep it from blowing away in the wind that seemed to come up every afternoon in summertime. Our eyes met. “It will be all right,” he said as if reading my hopeless thoughts. “You’ll have your rose garden.” Someday.

We had learned the most important part of starting a rose garden was preparing the soil. One should use plenty of manure and it’s best to let the manure settle into the soil before planting anything—like marinating the soil. And so, the winter snows came, blanketing my little garden-to-be and I visualized the good nutrients soaking into the ground, making a comfortable bed for the rose bushes we would be installing in the spring.

Timing is important when it comes to planting roses, the gardening books informed us. Compared to the drudgery of the previous year, shopping for the plants became an exercise of pure joy. We would prowl local nurseries and garden shops for days, lost in a vortex of color, shape and fragrance. At first we considered color and the effect we could achieve by placing contrasting colors side-by-side. The more we researched, the more we learned how many things one must consider.

Some rose bushes bloom only once a season; others keep blooming all summer. Then there is the matter of petals—how many and how large the blossoms are. A big consideration is the height of the rose bush and how far the mature plant will spread.

If part of the joy of gardening lies in the planning, then we were living proof that planning a rose garden creates happiness in abundance.

There are three main classifications of rose: hybrid tea roses, floribunda, and grandiflora, each with its own characteristics. Often we would return home empty-handed but with a whole new set of ideas for the future occupants of our rose bed.

If part of the joy of gardening lies in the planning, then we were living proof that planning a rose garden creates happiness in abundance. Looking back, we call that spring the Time of the Rose Shopping. No one shop offered everything we wanted or needed. We would purchase a plant at one location, another in a different section of the community, then take them home and set them in various spots in front of the house.

Sometimes, we would decide a certain plant would not do well or we would not do well with it and back it would go, to be replaced by what we considered a more suitable candidate. We wanted only the best.

We finally decided. In the end we chose three dozen good quality rose bushes-developed to thrive in our particular grumpy climate. We spent two glorious weeks that spring digging a hole for each rose bush, adding water and liquid plant vitamins, placing each bush in its prepared home and patting the dirt—for luck. Each evening we would gaze at our creation. Buds appeared, swollen with promise of lush blossoms.

By the end of June, we had withstood a grasshopper invasion, fighting off the creatures with special spray purchased in an emergency trip to the garden store. The weather had been ideal except for one thunderstorm that shook our fledgling bushes until some of the leaves fell to the ground. We watched the sky as it darkened over the mountains, turning clouds into an ominous darkness that could only forecast hail. We breathed a sigh of relief as we saw signs that told us hail was falling in the valley below.

Then we had our payoff. A beautiful mid summer day dawned clear and sunny. Warm but not hot. I poured my morning cup of coffee and stepped outside. A light, sweet odor and a plethora of color greeted me. There was the bright red of “Mister Lincoln” and standing in the front row was the “John F. Kennedy,” the white rose we had hunted for so long. I spotted the delicate orange red-tipped petals of “Double Delight.” It was like seeing old friends in a new environment. I laughed out loud. “George, come and see!”

My husband appeared on the porch. “See, I never promised you a rose garden, but you got one anyway didn’t you?”

ANN BRANDT is a freelance writer from Colorado.


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