There’s a joke that a British gardener left a suicide note of a single word—clay. If I told the joke, the punchline would be “roses.”
Imagine you have a beloved 98-year-old grandmother. Let’s call her Rose. She needs extensive surgery every winter, nearly round-the-clock attentive care all year long, and you know that whatever you do, pretty soon she’s going to die. Do you really want to take on that level of heart-rending care giving?
I have so far watched more than 20 grannies waste away from diseases like black spot, sooty mold, and fireblight or be devoured more quickly by aphids, rose chafers, slugs, and Japanese beetles.
I don’t buy roses anymore. But I wasn’t always so wise.
When my wife decided she wanted roses in our Mississippi Delta backyard, we bought landscape timbers, ordered half of a dump truck load of topsoil, constructed a 30-foot-long raised bed, and ordered and planted a dozen Simplicity roses. We envisioned that our roses would live up to their name and that soon we’d have a gorgeous hedge of pink profusion. The roses did in fact fulfill the promise of their name—Simplicity. Within two years they were all dead and no longer required any care. What could be simpler than that?
We signed up for more heartache after that by trying tea roses: French Lace, Double Delight, Tropicana, and my favorite of favorites, Mr. Lincoln. I bought an extensive arsenal of chemical weapons and even went out every summer night in the sweltering, mosquito-swarming Delta dark to hand pick scores of rose chafers—or rose chompers as I called them—off of our dear dying relatives. To no avail. After blooming once or twice, they all died. Yes, I had killed Mr. Lincoln. I had two more Mr. Lincolns after that, and you can guess what happened. It’s a lot to bear—three assassinations.
We gave up on roses for several years, until we moved to the mountains of North Carolina, where roses, we thought, would surely find a more welcoming environment. We bought a Peace rose, a beautiful, fragrant, award-winning flower. Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to be. No, our Peace rose isn’t dead yet. Even after ten years it’s still alive—if you can call a single short cane, almost completely denuded, “alive.” She looks like she wants to die, but I just don’t have the heart to help her on her way. There’s no avoiding the fact that soon she’ll be—in the ground. We tell her it’s OK to go; she doesn’t have to suffer anymore. But she still clings.
If I can give you just one piece of advice, it’s this: Don’t fall in love with roses.
If you do fall in love, you’re in for a world of hurt. And you will never have any Peace.
(My thanks to Wildacres Retreat, where this essay was written.)