28 August 2011

Everything's coming up Roses

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” – Romeo & Juliet

If procrastination were an art form, my level of genius would rival Mozart. These days, my preferred method of whiling away an hour or two is that most serious, most wonderful, and most British form of procrastination of them all: Gardening.

Of course, pride of place in any English garden belongs irrefutably to the Rose. And, at the moment it seems I do very little else beyond fretting about my roses. With good reason – I am aiming to win a ribbon in this year’s Village Show Flower competition. I was too timid to enter last year, fearing that a novice such as myself would stand no chance in the fray. More fool me, as the blooms in last season’s yield were profuse and of such lovely quality they earned even the praise of my chum and rose expert, Paul Smith, at Charlecote Park.

That lesson being learned, I ‘screwed my courage to the sticking place’, and was determined not to allow the floral opportunity to elude me twice. I tested the waters by entering an arrangement in this year’s W.I. Corsage Competition. The Corsage competition, though smaller in scale than the Village Show, is just as friendly and just as fierce. Perhaps, even a little more so as the coveted Barford W.I. Rose Bowl is at stake. The Rose Bowl remains in the possession of the winner for 12 months - a sterling reminder of the victor’s horticultural achievement. I yelped with glee when I was declared this year’s winner, feeling truly a champion amongst champions.

After such a remarkable success, I felt ready for an even bigger challenge: the Barford Village Show Flower, Fruit, and Vegetable Competition. I was ready, but what about the roses? To my utter dismay, the darling buds of May, June and July had all disappeared without a trace by early August. The prolific flourishes of last year, had given way to a meagre struggle for any colour at all.

I was beside myself, but not alone. Outside the Village Shop, I chanced upon my friend Kate, a stalwart of the annual Flower, Fruit and Veg competition. She and husband, Ian, were off to Scotland, she said. “But, you’ll miss the Village Show!” I gasped in disbelief. She looked forlorn, and replied sadly: “Nothing’s growing like it should.” I knew exactly how she felt. My own holiday plans (or lack of them) have been shaped and altered by many things, but I can honestly say, that roses have never been one of them. Until now.

Since ancient times, roses have enthralled poets and writers (there are at least seventy references to roses in Shakespeare’s works), as well as artists, monarchs, apothecaries, lovers, and, of course, gardeners. The queen of flowers and national emblem of England, roses are as temperamental as they are beautiful. When they are ‘happy’, all is right in the world, and they offer an abundance of flower and fragrance; when they are ‘discontented’ there seems no remedy, and their bare, yellowy, spiky and skeletal appearance seems a harbinger of impending doom. Without a doubt there are few joys more sublime than that of being the possessor and cultivator of a healthy, ‘happy’ rose.

Noting of the hazards of the invasive Wickwar rose (Rosa ‘Wickwar’), Sir Roy Strong once admonished gardeners to “Beware the Rose that will Engulf your Garden”, I think he may have gone one better, and offered would-be green-thumbers more apt advice: “Beware the Rose that will Engulf your Life”!

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