“Petals beaten wide by rain”

dog rose

When I went out this morning, full of the sense of being home after five days in Ottawa, I was hoping I’d see a sign of the coyote who was singing and barking just beyond the house at 5:15 (I was at my desk for an hour of musing before going back to bed). No coyote and only the loons calling down on Sakinaw Lake. But the dog rose is in bloom around my bedroom window! I didn’t plant a dog rose here (though I have two others, found up the mountain, and as they’re not native to our area, there’s a story there that I’ll probably never know…) but an Alba rose, grafted onto R. canina rootstock (I’m guessing), eventually died and I let the rootstock climb and climb until it reached the second storey. It is very beautiful, with its shell pink flowers that the bees love and its long elegant hips come fall. Last week, two weasels raced along its length while I was reading in bed just before dusk. The Irish poet John Montague (who once taught for a semester at my university when I was 19) wrote of stories and dog roses and when I read this poem, it’s his soft voice I hear in my head:

And still
the dog rose shines in the hedge.
Petals beaten wide by rain, it
sways slightly, at the tip of a
slender, tangled, arching branch…

This rose blooms once and mostly those are not the roses I love, though I have thickets of moss roses given to me years ago by an elderly woman, Vi Tyner,  who came to our community in 1946, in a 12 foot boat, with her husband (his legs in braces because of polio), pulling all their worldly possessions in a canoe. It took them 4 days to make the journey from New Westminster to Pender Harbour. You might imagine why I cherish her roses, even though they bloom once, in June. She gave me a pale pink one and one that is deep pink, ruffled and so sweetly scented I wish I could bottle it.

In Ottawa, we helped Manon and Forrest in their garden. I dug over a bed and my grandson Arthur collected worms turned up by my fork to tuck into the potatoes in another bed. Forrest planted a rose, one of the Explorer series, hardy enough to survive their cold winters. Theirs is “Henry Kelsey”, a rose with its own history, and it will climb the fence around their garden, where two little boys play and raccoons try to claw their way through reemay cloth to eat the kale seedlings. And John and Forrest planted a pear tree too, to join the two apple trees planted last year, one of them a Melba, in memory of our lost orchard. Gardens and roses and stories fill these late spring mornings as I sit at my desk, waiting for it to warm up enough to head outside to stake poppies and Mrs. Tyner’s roses.



“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