We moved from Manhattan to the End of the Road with our three daughters the day after Thanksgiving in 1979. Winter arrived in Heath that night.
It was a long cold Heath winter in our uninsulated house. We spent a lot of time dreaming and planning for the spring when we could be warm – and make a garden. After having just read Katherine White’s book, Onward and Upward in the Garden I was determined to have hardy, romantic old fashioned roses as well as vegetables.
I began on May 8 by planting Passionate Nymph’s Thigh next to the front door. She blooms there still in spite of the ice falling off the roof and right onto her for nearly 30 years. Two other roses died so quickly I’m not sure where they were planted, but the Comtesse de Murinais bloomed in pale splendor in what was the beginning of the Rose Walk before she succumbed.
In 1981 I planted Applejack at the top of the drive and it still greets visitors to the End of the Road. Alchemist didn’t make it through the winter.
That’s the way it has gone over the years. If I compare all the roses I have ever planted with the roses that are blooming this year, I have to admit to losing almost half. I would also estimate that half those fatalities are due to poor planting. I think I did not plant the failures deeply enough. The other fatalities are caused by the tenderness of the rose, or a mystery. I don’t know why I cannot keep the beautiful Roserie de l’Hay rugosa alive. It is tough, but not in my garden.
In 1987, on Midsummer’s Eve, we held our first Annual Rose Viewing. Of the roses blooming that day Camaieux, Constance Spry, Common moss rose, Amiga Mia, Maytime, Hawkeye Belle, and Prairie Star are all the haziest memory. However, daughter Kate walked the Rose Walk with me, sighed, and said ‘This is where I want to be married.’ Kate was only 23 at the time, with no serious romance on hand so I paid little attention.
We added three or four roses each year, including what I have come to call my Farmgirls, roses that I have been given by neighbors in town. Terri Pettingill even brought me roses from Maine from her mother’s house.
In 1990, when we had just returned from a year in Beijing, we worked to put the Rose Walk in order after a year of neglect. Visitors to the Rose Viewing had to be even more forgiving of weeds than usual.
Then on the Fourth of July, after an incredibly hot and humid day, Henry and I were awakened at 2 in the morning by three house-shaking claps of thunder. Henry said, “Do you smell ozone?”
I sniffed and said, “No, I smell smoke.”
Henry dashed to the window and saw that the old barn across from the house had been hit by lightning and was on fire.
The phone line was also knocked out by the lightning so Henry drove down to our neighbor’s house blaring the horn all the way to call the volunteer fire department. The first truck was there in only 10 minutes and kept our house from burning down.
Fortunately we had no livestock in the barn, and nothing of major importance was lost. However several of the roses were so damaged by the heat of the fire that they did not recover.
What we gained was the beginning of the Sunken Garden, built inside the barn’s three stone foundation walls.
By 1994 Kate announced that I better start special preparations on the Rose Walk. Instead of a Rose Viewing she wanted a Rose wedding.
The whole family worked to make the gardens and the house look their best. We planted David Austin roses in Sunken Garden thinking they would be protected from the wind. They looked promising on the wedding day; all but Felicite Parmentier and Fantin Latour, non-Austins, are gone.
Kate was confident that an outdoor wedding would be safe because it had never rained on the Rose Viewing. We did think a tent was the better part of valor, but the week before the wedding was so rainy that the tent couldn’t be put up until Thursday, and even then it was misting.
On Saturday morning the sky was black and threatening. But no rain, Until the bride stepped inside the tent. The skies opened.
Then a miracle. As Kate and Greg prepared to say their vows the rain stopped and a brilliant sun came out, spangling the flowery but dripping wedding arch with diamonds. Along with the minister they stepped out into the sunshine to promise love and honor.
Breezes blew mist across our hill and although people got a bit damp admiring the roses, it was as romantic a landscape as any bride could have wished.
The following day, the last Sunday in June when the Rose Viewing would have been held, was beautiful. Sunny, dry, warm and breezy. Our neighbors came over to help us eat the wedding leftovers and enjoy a private viewing. No rain. As usual.
There are more stories and you are invited to join us in stopping to smell the roses at the 2009 Annual Rose Viewing on June 28 from 1-4 pm. Cookies and lemonade will be served in the Cottage Ornee.
Come up 8A North from Charlemont for about 4.7 miles. When you get just past the Berkshire Gold Maple syrup stand look for a sign on the left pointing towards the roses. The weather man predicts sun. ###
June 27, 2009