The Cranford Rose Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is at its peak. I was completely dazzled by the prodigious blooms that greeted me in the gentle early light this morning. The richness of forms, patterns and colors on display was almost overwhelming, not to mention the subtle varieties of scents. I am reminded of Michael Pollan's thoughts on the subject of flowers: "There are flowers, and then there are flowers: flowers, I mean, around which whole cultures have sprung up, flowers with an empire's worth of history behind them, flowers whose form and color and scent, whose very genes carry reflections of people's ideas and desires through time like great books. It's a lot to ask of a plant, that it take on the changing colors of human dreams, and this may explain why only a small handful of them have proven themselves supple and willing enough for the task. The rose, obviously, is one such flower; the peony, particularly in the East, is another." The rose has always been the most regal of flowers in our gardens, a real classic, or to quote Pollan again, one of "our canonical flowers, the Shakespeares, Miltons, and Tolstoys of the plant world, voluminous and protean, the select company of flowers that have survived the vicissitudes of fashion to make themselves sovereign and unignorable."
No, you simply cannot ignore a beautiful rose–an old rose with its fragrance intact, not one that has been hybridized to be the size of dinner plates and scentless. Looking at these roses, I can't help but be reminded of time, of the future that will come much too soon and wither these petals. But the ephemeral nature of the rose whose blooms come fleetingly once a year to claim our admiration only adds to its beauty. It's a flower that can break my heart, its presence reminding me of the brevity of my own passage on this earth.
My father planted many roses in his garden, including a whole bed of them outside the window of the room where he spent his last days. From his bed, he had a clear view of these rose bushes, as well as the herb and vegetable patch and a small white fence on which he had planted a yellow rose climber. Every day while I was not taking my turn to stay in the room with him, I would go out to tend this part of the garden. The weeds had gone wild in the unplanted vegetable patch, but the rose bushes were laden with buds. I kept hoping that they would bloom before he died, just so he could glimpse their beauty once more. In the end, it was the climber on the fence that bloomed first, and he duly noted the tiny blossoms the day before he took his last breath.