In The Rose Garden
Sitting next to the basket of early spring rose blooms, I take a break on my front patio rose garden. My rose garden this year, looks beautiful, but I have to remind myself that the two prolifically blooming rose bushes, don’t say much about my ability to grow roses. They were most likely planted more than forty years ago by a previous owner of this property.
Perhaps it’s the sun, or the heady sweet perfume of the garden rose blossoms, because immediately I am taken back to that same time period — when the women of my grandmother’s Blue Rose Society, dreamed an impossible dream — perfecting the first double blue rose. As a young girl, sitting on the sidelines, while they held their weekly luncheon meetings, I was certain they’d lost their minds or at least were drinking something more than mint julep tea.
First of all, in case you don’t know it, there is no such thing in wild nature as a double rose. All wild roses have only five petals, a great number of stamens, and several pistils. Generations of gardeners have so coaxed and petted the rose, that they have induced it to turn nearly all its stamens into petals. They have also changed its color so often that now we may have roses of almost any tint, from yellow to white, to pink, to the darkest of purple crimsons.
Today, there are the names of innumerable varieties of rose flowers in the catalogues of the nurserymen. Owing to the back mentioned, that the “doubling” of the rose has meant the loss of most, or all, of its stamens, these flowers, lovely as we may consider them are, after all, imperfect flowers. The pistils are mostly there, but if they produce seeds, it is in most cases, through pollen brought by the bees from wild roses in the fields. Thus, the seeds grow into plants with flowers, more or less like the field rose. Garden roses like the parent plant can seldom, or never, be raised from seed.
What is unique about rose plants of any hue, is that when a flower appears that is better than others of that particular kind of rose — all the gardener has to cut off the shoot that produced it, and to get it to take root. Then, when it has grown into a little bush, he cuts out a number of the shoot-buds from the stems, and fixes them under the skin of a wild rose, and when the wound has healed and the bud has grown into a shoot, he cuts off all the other shoots and buds of the wild rose, and allows only the new parts to grow.
In this way, the gardener makes a number of specimens of the new rose out of the one little cutting he induced to root. Some of the shoots, he may cause to grown on wild rose stems of “stocks,” as it is called, or by grafting. It is by this way that all garden roses of today have come to existence and increased.
That brings me to the point of what I once thought was the folly of my grandmother’s Blue Rose Society — because despite centuries of trying, mankind and womankind have thus far, failed to produce a natural blue rose. Now, I don’t know which one of those zany old women thought up the idea of forming a garden club, solely for the purpose of concentrating on developing a double blue rose species — but I have long suspected I’m related to her.
Today, I’m thinking they might not have been as fanatical as I once thought they were, in fact they were women who dared to dream big dreams. There was a time when I was certain, that the idea was inspired by their Victorian era mothers and grandmothers, who might have read to them Rudyard Kipling’s Blue Rose poem. It turns out I was very wrong, they were inspired by their collective imaginations.
Listening and watching one of their meetings, I saw six elderly ladies, donned in their handmade crepe paper and paper plate blue rose flower hats, acting as regally as if they had been purchased from some expensive Parisian hat shop. Then, an almost magical thing occurred, as they spoke the language of flowers (fluorography) — a communiqué of coded messages found in each of the floral arrangements, that each had brought to the lunch in an effort to outdo the others.
The room was soon filled with great gaiety and constant laughter as the “great blue rose exchange began. It was decided that Clara’s red and white rose bouquet would have to be given to Dorthea, because red roses signify true love and white roses signal secrecy — and it was a known fact that Dorthea had a secret crush on Elvis Presley, even though he was far too young for her.
Now, Gladys had brought an arrangement of yellow roses, mixed with dark pink roses. Her rose creation could only go to Miss Emily, due to the fact that Gladys was especially thankful that Miss Emily had brought her red velvet cake for dessert, and they were after all, best friends since childhood. Dark pink roses mean gratitude and yellow roses are a flag of deep friendship.
Miss Emily’s spray of red and white roses was destined to go home with Betty, because of course, red and white roses signify unity. You don’t get any more unified than Emily and Betty, being identical twins. While Betty’s vase of stunning red and yellow roses were handed off to Clara, for the obvious reason that Clara was a living breathing being of joy and happiness.
Meanwhile, Dorthea wasn’t about to be outone by anyone in that group, so her garland of light pink roses went to Grama Daisy. Light pink roses are given to those who are forever youthful and full of energy. However, it was Gram’s single long stem rose that was most coveted of all, that obviously went to Gladys.
Now, that last exchange between my grandmother and Gladys, was the most interesting of all, in this confusion and hotly debated exchange of roses. For somehow, each week, one of the ladies would surreptitiously be in charge of attaining the impossible — the double blue rose. No, they hadn’t unraveled the mystery of how to do the impossible, they just knew a lot about food coloring.
In realty, they just were challenging each other to “believe” that the impossible could be done in a world that sometimes seemed overwhelming to them. They found their inspiration in a bloom of popularity, among a group of women ,who knew that blue roses symbolize mystery, attaining the impossible (or at least continuing the quest for it), and having the great ability to grant the owner the promise of youthfulness. Each week, their mission was accomplished, you could see it in the sparkle in their eyes, as they toasted with mint julep iced tea, to “blue roses that someday will blossom in the snow.”
Today, all of those sweet ladies are gone, some longer than other, but wouldn’t they be excited to know that they no longer have to dye a white rose blue, as Japanese and Australian scientists at have collaborated. Since 2004, a blue rose is now becoming possible thanks to genetic engineering. Someday soon, the Suntory Ltd. company promises we will have blue roses in our gardens.
How blue are the Suntory blue roses? Well, most would agree that they are not very blue, leaning more towards lavender, but Suntory is are still working on them to achieve just the right color. Someday soon, their roses will be as blue as the sky is the hope.
Since the Blue Rose Society was toasting to blue roses blooming in the snow, clear back in the 1960s, I’m sure the ladies would have also loved to hear English singer songwriter, Paddy McAloon’s 1980’s song about how:
“Blue roses will blossom in the snow,
Before I ever let you go.
Blue roses will grow up to the sky,
Before I ever make you cry.”
As for me, I’m thinking over a glass of mint julep tea, that more of us need to include in our garden rose designs — dreaming big — including having a future spot for blue roses that will grow up to the sky — planting rose gardens as a respite from a troubling world, a place to dream once again youthful dreams, that don’t deny that anything is possible, if only you keep trying. That’s what having a lovely garden is all about.
If You’d Like To Know More About Blue Roses: