June 2021: In the garden

Roses: you have finally got me. 

I’ve never exactly been your biggest fan. Yes, I spent hours of my childhood mixing up fallen rose petal potions, but actually, I’ve never once in my life bought a single one of you. 

You’ve always just been things I’ve inherited with a garden. Things to curse at when accidently grabbing one of your thorns or when you decide to somehow weave yourself through my hair as I lovingly (begrudgingly?) prune you.

And frankly, you are just so finickity. Always wanting feeding, deadheading, pruning, staking, mulching, cutting back off the lawn…you name it. And after all of that time-consuming attention, how do you repay me? With black spot and aphids, that’s how. Honestly, who’d have you?

Well, me, as it turns out. June 2021 was the month that they actually, truly, finally worked for me.

Our four acres here were smothered in roses when we arrived. No rose garden as such, but every single bed, in sun or in shade, contained multiple roses. Shrub roses, climbing roses, ramblers, rugosas, singles, doubles, you name it. And if I explain that roses are the number one favourite deer food, plus that we are on very thin, sandy soil, you’ll perhaps start to understand my intolerance of the hair tangling experiences.

Every rose here is bare from 95cm down. Not a leaf in sight; barely any bark left on some. And I think years and years of sheep manure application was the primary cause for us barely being able to see any flowers at all when we arrived; just the odd peeping flower above flourishing nettles.

But one day this month – a sad day for me – I went out into the garden in search of solace. It was pouring with rain – had been all day – but the garden drew me outside. I wanted to feel its comfort embrace me and for my teardrops to be diluted and washed away by the rain. 

As I left the house, I instinctively picked up my camera. To distract me? To focus my mind on seeking out the beauty on a sad, grey day? Whatever the reason, it worked.

And yes, it was the roses that brought me back on an even keel.

Oh, they were beautiful. The perfect flowers, the brown, aging flowers; the mass display of flowers, the single, solitary bud; they all just sang to me, soothed me, uplifted me.

These incredible natural art forms, all sparkling in the rain. How can one be sad for too long when surrounded by these wonderous, sweet-scented, little packaged-up things of beauty?

Each individual flower seemed to be aware of my heightened emotions, shedding a few tears of its own. Each glowing in the moist air, coloured petals as saturated and concentrated as ever.

Each reached out and grasped the opportunity to convert my energy from negative to positive. Would I really have been so drawn in – felt so engaged – had I been going about an average old day?

And having shared that intense experience with the roses, my new connection to them remains long after my sadness has waned.

Perhaps one also appreciates the less ubiquitous things in life. One perfectly located climbing rose, spreading far and wide, high above the deer line, so much more satisfying to me than a hundred regimented shrubs. 

A single native rose weaving its way through an oak tree bordering the farmland, infinitely more appealing to my eye than a highly bred, dual-coloured, stunted specimen.

I had muddied up the good and the bad of roses, but can now see their true value for what it is. It’s all about working out what works for you. 

I very much hope I’ve retained much of the former identity of the garden – we still have dozens of roses which shape its look and feel. But by selecting out the poor performers, the now misplaced as the garden has evolved and the ones I simply don’t, subjectively, like, it feels we have achieved such a happy outcome.

It remains to be seen if I still curse them next prune time, but for the moment, I seem to be drifting along in a much happier vein, unable to stop singing, “raindrops on roses…and whiskers on kittens”.

8 thoughts on “June 2021: In the garden

  1. Adriana says:

    Love your roses – simple and beautiful. I once had to go to a specialist just after I had a major rose pruning session (I had over 200 at the time) – he was a little taken aback by the scratches on my legs, arms and hands. What happened to you? he asked. My reply: I love my roses but it seems they don’t really love me. Not sure he got it though! Glad you ‘get’ roses now Janna (having said that I only have 6 struggling ones now – seems they don’t like it here).

    • jannaschreier says:

      We do have the advantage here that when you are pruning them it’s usually about two degrees outside and you have many, many layers of padding on! It fills me with horror to imagine the state that you describe! They really are vicious. I do wonder how much I will remember my current love for them come January. What is up with your roses? Thin soil? Too much shade? Certainly not a lack of gardener knowledge!!

  2. Suzanne says:

    Oh Janna, I do hope your reason for such sadness is not too serious. There seems to be so much to be sad about in our beautiful, suffering, precious planet these past few years. Perhaps it’s just old age, but I am deeply empathetic with so much of the news which appears on our screens and if it’s too unsettling, a quick wander around the garden soon has me back on an even keel. I’ll pop outside to check on my latest project when I finish writing this!

    Roses are an interesting subject. People seem to love or hate them – no ‘fence sitters’. I went through a love affair with them back in the late ‘80s. Great big foaming, frothing mounds of flowers such as you have photographed drew me in; not sticky-up naked stems like hybrid teas. We have an excellent nursery up in the Hills whose display garden of ‘old world roses’ prompted many purchases (almost 50!) and for a short while I almost achieved my vision. However, as you so clearly outlined, I quickly discovered the downside of rose growing. Work and family life prompted neglect; they struggled and so did I. Mostly it was a case of the wrong plant in the wrong place and out they came. Your plants look so right in your spacious English heritage country garden…they belong and are quite exquisite.

    I now have three roses left but one, maybe two, will go this year. I still love a good rose in an appropriate setting. Yours are truely beautiful. I don’t envy your pruning but as a wise rosarian once said, I you love a plant then you will love growing and caring for it. I guess that’s true of all things. Oddly, it was hearing that comment that gave me the resolve to rip mine out!

    I haven’t solved the response box issue yet and my Sydney visit has been postponed with our latest COVID outbreak…sigh. I often think of you as I wander around the garden. You’ve taught me more than you could possibly imagine. Hopefully this reply copies in OK. X

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thank you, Suzanne, no all OK now, thank you for asking. I’m intrigued as to what your latest project is though! And you are so good at making changes – if I’d bought 50 roses I couldn’t bring myself to take them out again! So often being mentally tough is a key requirement for a good garden! Your words remind me of Te Kainga Marire garden in New Zealand. If I remember correctly, they had all NZ natives apart from two plants. One was the lawn and the other was a rambling rose right the way across the front of the house. The rose looked so perfect there – funny it didn’t look all wrong. So often with design it’s the clever, quirky things, rather than the predictable that make it. Although perhaps there is a link with roses and NZ – they do have a lot of them and as the landscape is so much more British-looking than Australia’s they almost look part of its heritage. Extremely annoying you can’t go to Sydney at the moment. I do hope it all fizzles out very soon. But it does mean you get extra days in your wonderful garden!! Your garden that you have taught yourself in. I’m very glad if reading my blog has invigorated your gardening passion at times, but there is no question that you learnt it all for yourself. I couldn’t have made your garden as it is with all the time in the world. You have a very very clever eye and an exceptional ability to add charm and character. Hope to hear about that new project soon!

  3. Louise says:

    Oh Janna your sadness is palpable in this blog. I can feel you. I do hope that your sadness has resolved and you have felt embraced in your vulnerability. Oh how lucky are we to have something to turn to in our sadness. For us, it is a walk through our gardens. I had many roses at my first home garden. Didn’t plant any in current garden. I decided they were too much work so I would admire them in other gardens. I do enjoy a rose with its delicate bud and the sometimes heavenly scent as each petal unfolds to an exquisite flower. So many varieties now. Your garden looks like it is flourishing. Thinking of you x

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thank you, Louise, you are always so kind. We are just back after a week away on the north east coast and I am feeling so refreshed. I think having been locked down for most of the year, it was a medicine most needed! We have well and truly had all the cobwebs blown (and rained) away now! And we had lots of rain at home too, so we had an excited walk around the garden in our raincoats when we arrive back last night. It’s so exciting exploring when you’ve been away, to see what’s what. Gosh, I have some weeds to sort though! Hope all is going OK in Canberra. Sydney seems to be a bit of another story. Thinking of you too!

  4. Pat Webster says:

    Janna, I’ve been caught up in family for over a month and am only now reading this post. What a beautiful succession of photos! Hooray for the grey day that drew you out to the garden, and a bigger Hooray for all those wonderful roses, with and without raindrops.

    • jannaschreier says:

      I hope all is well with you, Pat. Now can’t be an easy time for you as I know you have (or at least did have) family overseas. Thank you ever so much for your kind comments and for sharing my enthusiasm for grey days and wonderful roses!

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