Euclid’s Orchard also contains roses

american pillar

The rose came from one of the annual spring plant sales at the Community Hall when we first lived here; you brought your box with you, and you got there early because everyone wanted the tomatoes or irises or Muriel Cameron’s dahlia tubers or bits of Vi Tyner’s roses. I’m not sure this one came from Vi Tyner, who did give me moss roses, a soft pink one and another one deeper pink in colour. But it grows everywhere—old homesteads, seaside gardens, along fences in semi-industrial areas as if remembering a former house, ancient care. It grows across from the Post Office in Madeira Park, for example, and I don’t know if it ever gets pruned or watered. And there’s a place on the highway, near Middlepoint, where one grew for years and years, until it was absorbed by the forest taking over the site of a cabin that I believed burned to the ground before we arrived in 1981. I’d thought a little about trying to identify it but somehow never did.

And somehow today was the day, so I took my rose encyclopedia and a cup of coffee out to the table and went through, page by page. Until I came to ‘American Pillar.’ Bred by Dr.Van Fleet in1902. A very prolific and widespread rose,and yes, it will survive any kind of neglect, it seems.

—from “Ballast”, in Euclid’s Orchard, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017

new dawn

Some old wood, some new wood, said Daisy Harknett. So I cut pieces with both. I dipped the lower part of the wood in rooting hormone (though I could have used a tea of willow bark) and stuck them into little pots of soil. And now my New Dawns tumble over a beam, a pergola, and the front door of my house. The pear tree, with its heavy crop of honeyed fruit, is lost now forever, consigned to the same fire as the rotting fence posts, the stable door. Yet anyone who ate one of those beauties must surely remember the flavour. I took a bag of them to one of my classes at the University of Victoria in 1974 and handed them around to my classmates. The instructor, an Irish poet of some note, ate a couple of the pears in quick succession and said they were the best he’d ever tasted. Years later he published a memoir with ripe pears in the title, and although I haven’t read it, not yet, I’d like to think it might be an unconscious homage to Daisy’s pears.

— from “Ballast”, in Euclid’s Orchard, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017

“It was a tale I entered…”

In the darkest days of winter, we eat our supper on chairs in front of the woodstove, plates balanced on our knees. Looking into fire is preferable to looking out to darkness through the large uncurtained window in our little dining area. But last night the sky was more like a February sky, a deepening blue after the sun set, with the pinky-gold of its setting still glowing beyond the horizon; so we cleared off the long pine table and sat there, candles lit, and the first stars appearing.

The day before yesterday I pruned two unruly roses and heard tree frogs somewhere in the garden. It’s too soon, I called to them, and was surprised at how quickly they went silent! But the garlic is growing well, crowns of columbine are emerging from the clutter of their dead stems, and a few broadbeans (which must have self-sown) are showing every sign of continuing to flourish.

Inside today (because of rain), I’ve been working on finishing up some essays. I think I have a book’s worth. A few still need a fair bit of revising but there’s a body of work there, always a surprise to see even though it’s what I am — was– working towards. Here’s a little passage from a piece about the ballast, known and unknown, carried by those who came before us — my own grandparents, neighbours, the early residents of the neighbourhood where I spent my teenaged years.

In small communities or the old neighbourhoods of larger ones – towns, cities, even the places where rural areas have been absorbed by suburban sprawl — it’s not uncommon to find sturdy plantings which have survived many decades. Lilacs in cold climates often bloom exuberantly without any care at all. Delphiniums send up their tall spires, blue as the sky, though in well-tended gardens they are routinely eaten by slugs. And roses – well, you can tell where homestead gardens were located by the profuse canes of old species ramblers and rugosas – Dr. Van Fleet, Blanc Double de Coubert. Unpruned, unwatered, they cascade over whatever supports might be nearby: a wire fence, a tree (sometimes even a lilac), the remains of a staircase leading nowhere.

I’ve taken my share of cuttings. My 3 New Dawn roses come from the garden of my parents’ neighbour. When she was in her 80s, she told me how her mother had started the roses from a slip given her by the Ferry sisters, a duo who lived nearby in one of the oldest houses in Saanich. The New Dawns, the palest pink (the colour of my baby daughter’s shoulders when Daisy Harknett gave me cuttings), tangled themselves in the limbs of an equally ancient pear. When the property was subdivided and the back part sold, with an old stable, the pear tree with its cargo of roses, and other perennials I never thought to ask for, a man pulled out the rose with a backhoe. I don’t know where he took it.

Some old wood, some new wood, said Daisy Harknett. So I cut pieces with both. I dipped the lower part of the wood in rooting hormone (though I could have used a tea of willow bark) and stuck them into little pots of soil. And now my New Dawns tumble over (respectively) a beam, a pergola, the front door of my house.

In the woods between Elk Lake and Beaver Lake, there was an abandoned house (sometimes I think I dreamed this because no one else I’ve spoken to remembers it) completed knitted into place by honeysuckle and roses. Knitted into memory by roses of a kind I’ve never seen since, apple-scented, white, and humming with bees. On my black horse, I approached with the sense that here was an ancient fairy tale hidden in the woods. Which were not wild exactly but remnant – a few forgotten apple trees, pruned by deer, beaked hazelnut, even laburnum. It was a tale I entered, as a girl will, with a sense of wonder and expectation. I tied my horse to a tree and tried to peer in the windows laced every which way with canes. And though there might have been a prince sleeping within, he didn’t wake.

blanc double de coubert

“by any other name”

                                    O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…

–from Romeo and Juliet

This morning I was working on this new essay, “Ballast”, and was in the process of wondering, not aloud exactly but certainly on the page, about a rose I have growing over a railing on the west-facing deck, our garden “room” if we have one: it’s the deck where our table is in summer, where we eat our dinners, sit with guests at night with glasses of single-malt, listening for loons down on Sakinaw Lake:

summer roomThe rose came from one of the spring plant sales that happened every year at the Community Hall when we first lived here; you brought your box with you and you got there early because everyone wanted the tomatoes or irises or Muriel Cameron’s dahlia tubers or bits of Vi Tyner’s roses. I’m not sure this one came from Vi Tyner (who did give me moss roses, a soft pink one and a deep pink). But it grows everywhere — old homesteads, seaside gardens, along fences in semi-industrial areas as if remembering a former house, ancient care. It grows across from the Post Office in Madeira Park, for example, and I don’t know if it ever gets pruned or watered. And there’s a place on the highway, near Middlepoint, where one grew for years and years, until it was absorbed by the forest taking over the site of a cabin which I believed burned to the ground before we ever arrived in 1981.

Anyway, I’d thought a little about trying to identify it but somehow never did. And somehow today was the day so I took my rose encyclopedia and a cup of coffee out to the table (you can see both there, if you look hard. It’s not a good photograph but today is so hot that I wasn’t going to stand around fussing with the camera…) and went through, page by page. Until I came to “American Pillar”. Bred by Dr. Van Fleet in 1902. A very prolific and wide-spread rose and yes, it will survive any kind of neglect, it seems.

american pillarI’m interested in how plants travel, how they are carried to new places, how they are botanical palimpsests, in a way.  And how they hold stories. Some of the stories are plain and true and some are cryptic. In Placentia, Newfoundland, two autumns ago, we stayed in a beautiful old Second Empire bed and breakfast inn. There was a lovely garden in front, overlooking the gut or channel connecting two arms of water. And a little photo-essay in the entrance hall detailed the restoration work done on the house, adding that the old roses in the garden had come in soil serving as ships’ ballast, the ship having come from Ireland.

I have roses from gardens no longer extant. Vi Tyner’s for example, which provided the moss roses as well as white violets, yellow flag irises, and a root of Viburnum opulus which promptly died once planted and which I was always too timid to tell her. A “Tuscany Superb” which came from a cutting given me at a birthday party held perhaps 30 years ago in a house which has long been torn down. My “New Dawns” (a repeat-blooming sport of “Dr. Van Fleet”) came from an elderly neighbour of my parents in Saanich who told me how her mother rooted cuttings (old wood and new wood, in specific proportions, which I’ve forgotten now, but she helped me cut them and three of them did root and thrive still, more than 30 years later).  That’s another rose, like “American Pillar’, to be found in almost every old garden, it seems. Ours are in full and rampant bloom right now and they are almost exactly the colour of my granddaughter’s shoulders. They have such a sweet and delicate scent, almost apple-y, and what’s in a name? Such beauty and such hope.

a new dawn