My father had a number of hobbies, but growing roses was the one he was really passionate about. Our house in Bellerose was on a corner with a large side garden, which Dad filled with at least 100 different kinds of roses.
All summer he would be out there pruning, watering, weeding and carefully observing the health of each bush. Each plant had a small plaque with its name in front of it. During the winter, he would spend hours poring over catalogs from rose growers, selecting varieties to add in the spring, or figuring how he might cross breed two types to create a splendid new variety.
Passers-by would stop to admire the flowers, and Dad, always the teacher, would treat them to a lesson on just how that particular bloom achieved its delicate shade of pink or its large fluffy flower. He was so enthusiastic about his garden, but he never quite caught on that not everyone was as equally interested in the minutiae of the development of the different types. Most folks just wanted to admire their beauty, or if lucky, inspire Dad to cut a few to take with them.
When I was a teenager, Dad would often insist that I get all dolled up in a pretty dress and come out to the garden so he could take some color photos of me with the roses. You can imagine my annoyance when the developed pictures showed only my forearm holding out a perfectly formed red or pink bloom! Couldn’t he have taken the same shot with me in my jeans? One evening when I was newly engaged, Mom invited my future in-laws for dinner so we could all get to know each other. After dinner Dad decided to entertain the guests with a slideshow of his beautiful garden.
Estelle, my mother-in-law to be, was a refined woman with perfect manners, and she greeted each new slide with expressions of appreciation. “Oh, that’s lovely! Look at that shade of lilac. However did you get that? My, isn’t that one a beauty!” But John, her husband, was getting restless. Always a blunt speaker, he broke in and told my Dad, “Well now, Ambrose, we have seen enough of these roses. It’s time for us to be getting home!” The ladies hastened to smooth over the awkward moment and Dad wrapped up his show. He could have continued for another hour, I’m sure!
After his death, Mom, not a gardener herself, invited folks to take any of the rosebushes they wanted. My friend, appropriately named Rosemarie, was pleased to transplant a lovely bush with the name of “Peace” to her garden in Long Beach, where it flourished for many years. When my son Paul married Julie and bought a home in Virginia, Rosemarie asked if he would like to have his grandfather’s rosebush in his garden, and he was thrilled.
The problem was, how to get it there. My daughter Claire and her friend offered to drive down to see her brother and bring the bush, but he would have to help dig it up. When we got to Rosemarie’s house, she was all prepared in her gardening clothes with a big bucket and materials for wrapping the bush so it would survive the trip. She looked expectantly at her friend and handed him a shovel. As he dug, mud splattered his pristine trousers and expensive leather loafers. He was not happy, nor was he pleased when some of the mud spilled into his car on the journey south. Ever since, my friend has referred to him as “That Gucci-pucci guy, afraid to get a little dirty.”
“Peace” is a beautiful hybrid rose in pale yellow, shading out to pink and red at the tips of the petals. It survived the trip and I am so touched to see it still blooming over 20 years later in my son’s garden. What a legacy!