Sunday, June 04, 2006
The names of my roses
(With no apologies to Umberto Eco, either—after all, I’m merely demonstrating the use of the floating signifier.)
Yes, I have roses. And I often ask myself why. Every summer, around mid-July, I make plans to tear out every bush and replace them with:
a. A pond.
b. Sun-loving perennials such as delphinium, phlox, lavender, eryngium, poppys, and other plants that could only be grown in the space where the roses are.
c. A rock garden.
d. A summer bulb garden: including dahlias, canna, clivia, agapanthus, and the existing lilies.
e. A tropical garden (to be greenhoused in winter).
f. A tiki lounge.
And I’m sure I could come up with g, h, i, j, k, et al.
At this time of year, however, all the roses are in bud, and many are in bloom. The air is filled with promise and, often, with scent. I’m able to overlook the awkward habit of the bushes and close my eyes to what might be the beginnings of blackspot or some more exotic disease. I show my roses off with a certain amount of pride to my friends and neighbors. But more than any of that, I think it’s the romance of the flower—in history, in literature, as a universal icon—that keeps the shovel at bay. And the names have a lot to do with that.
When we first moved into the GWI property, there was one Double Delight, a bunch of white shrubs (White Meideland, I think), a red climber, and some kind of pink polyantha. The Double Delight was a blackspot magnet that produced one or two blooms per season. The pink polyantha was blanketed with mildew most of the time. Out they went, and with them most of the White Meidelands, which—though rather nice—lost a lot of their canes during a severe winter. I became entranced with the idea of old roses, both the really old ones and David Austin’s reinterpretations.
So now I have Charlotte, Abraham Darby, Louise Odier (shown above), Gloire de Dijon, and Blush Noisette. But I still think I love the idea of them more than the botanical actuality. More than any other plant, roses invariably fall short of the promises made by the verbiage in catalogs and nursery labels. At least they have for me. The diseases, the inactivity during midsummer, the need to keep some in pots for overwintering inside, the untidy form, and most of all, the rose pests (I am tormented by midge) present yearly reasons to tear all of them out. But how can I get rid of a plant called Gloire de Dijon?