‘Tis the last rose of summer,
Left blooming alone…
My mother had a soft spot for schmaltzy poetry—the kind that schoolchildren in the first half of the 20th Century had to memorize and recite. She also loved roses. We had a row of gorgeous ones in the backyard, planted when my parents moved into their split-level dream house in 1958. The roses were among the most popular of their day— by my recollection, Queen Elizabeth, Crimson Glory, Peace, Will Rogers, and a lovely outlier named Grand’mere Jenny that we all grew to love. They were the kind of roses—the real roses, an aficionado would say—that required meticulous tending.
As a child, those roses were objects of endless fascination, as much for their names as for their delicate beauty, breathtaking color, and heavenly scent. The American Rose Society’s online database is members-only, but there’s a nice long list on the Roses of Yesterday and Today website, where you will find not only catchy names like Double Delight, First Love, and Fourth of July, but also Cardinal de Richelieu, Frau Dagmar Hastrup (whoever she was), and Jacques Cartier. Who names roses? If you “invent” one, do you get to name it yourself? When are you important enough to have one named after you? These are the questions that plagued me as I admired our roses and pored through the Star Roses catalogue that arrived every year. It seemed to me that it would be great fun to name roses for a living. (In adulthood, I’ve often said the same thing about paint colors, but I have a feeling I’d run dry after the first 50 grays.)
My dear friend Marionlee is an expert rose gardener with a special fondness for English and French heirloom varieties. They take my breath away. God must give rose-lovers like her an extraordinary gift of patience. Wind, disease, weather, bugs on the rose and the gardener. I tried serious rose gardening only once, but when my beautiful Audrey Hepburn rose died off, I gave up. Years later, when I finally got the English cottage garden of my dreams, I learned about shrub roses—the kind that survive almost anything, bloom constantly from late spring through fall, and need very little attention. Okay, I know it’s cheating—kind of like using a cake mix instead of baking from scratch—but they were stunning, and they were survivors.
When we moved to our present home, the huge terraced garden was gone, and we had to start over in a much smaller space. This time, I wanted pale pink roses instead of red or fuchsia. Once again, we chose shrub roses. Four years later, they’ve really taken off, with this season particularly resplendent. And look what’s happened to the color!
Although it’s October, there is no last rose of summer here yet. Not only that, the lavender is flowering for the third time, and the clematis is enjoying a highly successful second act. If they’re not ready to pack it in, neither am I.
* The first two lines of of the poem by the Irish poet (as opposed to the saint), Thomas Moore. I don’t recommend clicking through if you have any tendency to seasonal affective disorder. It’s downright mournful. That’s probably why my mother only bothered with the first two lines.