I am often asked if I always loved roses. The answer is no. My desire for roses began when I was living and working in New York City. There amid Manhattan’s concrete towers I developed a hunger for roses.
What flower is more ancient and more romantic? When my husband and I, and our three daughters (the two boys were already out of the house) moved from the noisiest apartment in Manhattan on November 28, 1979 to the coldest and windiest hill in Massachusetts, I carried Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katherine White. The cover is a delicate painting of a simple old rose.
I spent that first winter in Heath dreaming of roses, romantic roses, hardy roses, fragrant roses, roses that spoke of history, elegant ladies, and tough women. Those dreams became flowers and parties that have been the highlight of our summer gardens.
On the last Sunday of June for more than 25 years we have held the Annual Rose Viewing, our Garden Open Today. Friends and strangers drive up the hill to stroll along the Rose Walk, admire the Rose Bank and enjoy lemonade and cookies in the shade of the Cottage Ornee. The sun shines, the zephyrs whisper and all is pure delight. And the sun does always shine on the Rose Viewing. Always.
Our youngest daughter Kate was so sure of this that she set her wedding day for the day before the Rose Viewing. It rained on and off all week before the wedding, and it rained early in morning of the wedding. It even began to pour again the moment after she walked into the wedding tent. And yet, the instant it was time to speak their vows the rain stopped and the sun shone brilliantly on the flowery arch dripping with diamond raindrops. She and her beloved Greg stepped out into the sunlight and the beginning of their happy life together.
The next day, the day that would have been the official Rose Viewing, was perfect.
The Rose Walk and the Annual Rose Viewing were not created by any well thought out master plan. That is not my way. Our very first spring at the end of the road I planted my first rose, Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, delicately pink, romantic, tough and fragrant, by the door. Applejack, a hardy pink Griffith Buck hybrid was planted at the top of our ‘drive’, actually town road. Both continue today.
The Rose Walk was created because in 1981, distracted by my job at the local community college and spring chores in the vegetable garden. I planted four new roses, the Comtesse de Murinais, Celsiana, Rosa Rubrifolia and de la Grifferai, in the middle of the lawn in a line. Don’t ask why.
The following year I decided I needed a reason to have those roses in the middle of the lawn. I know! A rose path! I planted the next four roses opposite the first four with a very wide path between, broad enough to stroll with a friend.
The next year I planted another handful of roses along my walk, Crested Moss, Madame Hardy, Ispahan, Camaieux, and I invited several friends over on Sunday afternoon for a Rose Viewing with tea and cakes. One guest, digging into her second piece of cake with barely a glance at the very little few rose bushes, said, “You should do this every year.” On such slim threads as these are traditions born.
More roses have been planted every single year. This is because about half the roses planted have not proved themselves hardy on our hill. Some have died because I did not plant them properly. Gone are the David Austin roses, Charles de Mills, Madame Isaac Pereiere, Marie de Blois and even Blaze. Remaining are rugosas like Pink Grootendorst, and the lush Belle Poitvine, damasks like Ispahan and Leda, and farmgirls like Rachel and Purinton Pink. It is always hard to count them, but more than 70 roses now bloom beneath the Heath sun.
In addition to the loveliness of the roses and the beauty of the day I think of the Annual Rose View as having an instructive element. Here you can see roses that are hardy and disease resistant
It is only April but we are already thinking of this year’s Annual Rose Viewing on Sunday, June 29. The winter was long and cold, but the snow was deep, and the roses are coming to life. Won’t you join us? If that is not possible take a Virtual Rose Viewing here.