Someone Else's Roses

Learning an important lesson.

Pat Fretton is a pastor's wife living in Australia.

"Not another move" I sighed, as John replaced the tele­phone receiver.

How I longed for a place of our own. Somewhere we could really put down some roots and eat the fruits of our labor. Usually we had to move on just before we raised enough cauliflowers and brussel spouts to supply half the town.

Over the years we have lived in some unusual places. I recall the rocky, windswept island where everything including the local inhabitants leaned with the prevailing wind. Wild parsley sprouted from every crack and crevice in the garden; however, there were numerous enthusiastic tail brandishing scorpions inside the house.

Thinking back there have been quite a variety of houses. Some had gardens ranging all the way from the "two by four" green painted, concrete monstrosity featuring a shrub in a tub (well past it's "use by" date) to the veritable Kew Gardens, boasting hip-deep herbaceous borders. At one location, the shrubbery was so thick with tongue twisting, unpronounceable Latin names that it required a native guide wielding a machete to simply locate the wash line.

Slipping down the years, I recall our experience before we moved into our next "new" home. We made several anticipatory passes in the car to kind of size up the place. "Yes," I thought gratefully, "the beige, full length lace curtains will definitely fit most of them." I felt grateful that I would be able to replace the sad looking grey remnants hanging in ghostly shrouds between the dingy grey rubber backs.

After several circuits around the block, my husband began to rapidly reach. the end of a very short fuse. He had forgotten what "Slowly dear, slowly ..." meant. I looked with dismay at the neglected state of the garden—typical of rental accommodations. But I was heartened to see small but easily identifiable Gardenia blooms squinting out from along the tangled overgrowth. Their fragrance was obvious even with the car windows up.

On either side of the house were roses gasping because they were jammed beneath masses of previously voraciously growing Camellias. These basin-size flowers had sucked the last vestige of moisture from the crusty, unwatered ground.

A day or so later I ventured outside to escape the flotilla of boxes still waiting to be unpacked. In the amidst the neglected wil­derness, I tried to imagine the pleasure with some enthusiastic, far-seeing soul had experienced as they planned and planted this delightful rose garden. I won­dered if they had ever succeeded in enjoying the fragrant velvety blooms that were now merely existing shriveled and dried among such a thorny, cracking morass.

Cautiously approaching the roses while clutching my trusty rinky-dink, I felt like a criminal realizing the havoc I could wreak. My knowledge of rose pruning was sketchy to say the least and was more on a part with my understanding of the mating habits of the snapping turtles of South America—or was it Africa?

During my early morning walks around the new neighborhood I paid particular attention to the other gardens. The little stems of the deftly dotted rose bushes were all neatly pruned; it seemed to the point of no return. And then I remembered, "You can't over prune roses. They love it." Someone's helpful advice drifted back from the foggy mists of time.

After twenty minutes snipping nervously at fifteen years of unbridled growth, I felt I had made very little impression. I almost considered using a few bursts of Nap al gas to achieve any appreciable difference, but I pressed on determinedly.

In my mind's eye I tried to compare this overgrown mass with the artist's impression of rose pruning in my well-thumbed Complete Garden Guide. This volume clearly illustrated the before and after cute little "short back and sides" numbers. But then, I reasoned, they had only possessed three "no nonsense" stems in the first place.

"One for juice-a, one for fruit-a." I remembered Franko, my Italian neigbor reciting. Unfortunately he had been referring to his "obediently" trained grape vines which he religiously trimmed back to nub ends. A similar principle must surely apply to rosebushes. I counted the number of notches remaining on the trailing meter long stems and continued to snip with abandon.

"By the way," my husband asked later that night, "whatever did you do to the roses?"

It was an amazing question coming from a man like John who usually couldn't recognize a fruit-bearing apple tree at three paces!

I lay wide awake that night overwhelmed with guilt like a criminal found defacing "Whistler's Mother" after running amok in the Louvre with a Stanley knife. Watching the hours slide by, I admitted that I had rather leaned towards the "you can't kill 'em theory" leaving the roses shorn as if by some enthusiastic person on work experience with the "jaws of life." Having succeeded in pushing the thorny problem to the furthermost part of my mind, I drifted off to sleep.

Time passed quickly once we had settled in our new parsonage. Soon it was time for our much-needed vacation. I refused to even think of anything featuring a rose. I kept my eyes firmly diverted even when passing the greeting card stands.

A month later we returned late at night from our vacation. A friend called in with our mail and messages. "Wow!" she greeted me enthusiastically. "How did you manage to grow roses like that?"

At first light my joy and amazement was indescribable. Magnificent long stemmed, dew bathed, velvet petalled roses greeted me. Such fragrant blooms. They ranged from richest of reds right through every shade of yellow to the most delicate apricot imaginable—all surrounded by an abundance of healthy green foliage.

I can see a parallel with our own lives. Can't you?