“her gift of New Dawns”

morning roses

This morning I cut a bowl of roses for the kitchen—Madame Plantiers, a few dog roses from a wild cane (the rootstock for an alba which has since died), and few deep pink Tess of the D’Ubervilles. I love roses and grow a lot of them, not in any kind of tidy way, but simply finding a place where they’ll get light, pruning them in spring, and letting them go. I put pots of mint in among the tubs of roses on our upper deck—it helps to deter aphids. And I like to watch the vespid wasps scouring the leaves for scale and any other insects they can find to feed their larvae.

I’ve noticed this year that some of my roses haven’t thrived after our unusually long cold winter. One of the New Dawns, the one around the front door, is skimpy in both new growth and buds. There are two others so I think I will take some cuttings and see what happens. These roses came to me via an elderly neighbour of my parents when we first began our lives in this house. I wrote about her and her gift of New Dawns in an essay, “Ballast”, in my forthcoming Euclid’s Orchard:

I’ve taken my share of cuttings. My three New Dawn roses come from the garden of my parents’ neighbour, Daisy Harknett. In her eighties, she told me how her mother 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 gave me these cuttings), tangled themselves in the limbs of an equally ancient pear tree. That tree, with its cargo of roses! Later, the property was subdivided, and the back part, with an old stable, was sold. 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 a beam, a pergola, and the front door of my house.

I want the New Dawns to continue, both because I love the roses themselves and because I want something of that time—the Ferry sisters, whom no one else seems to remember; Daisy, who had a family who will remember her and her roses (and wonderful pears); and the kind of ballast that inherited plants provide to our lives.