Earth Journal
Coming up Roses
by M.L. Faunce

M.L. Faunce's dadMy father had an expression. "You're as welcome as the flowers in May," he'd tell friends and guests to our home. The phrase sounds quaint and old fashioned now, but the truth is, the man who had never known a stranger also loved flowers, especially roses, as much as he did people.

Every spring, Dad predicted his roses would bloom by Mother's Day. So May is when I expect my roses to bloom.

Growing roses is tricky business. I can remember when I got disillusioned about life. It wasn't dirty politics or a relationship gone sour. It was when I found out that other parts of the country aren't pestered by Japanese Beetles. Pop's roses had those pesky insects, too, but as a kid they seemed more like iridescent ornaments than the weapons of destruction they are to me now. I don't remember his roses having black spot or aphids, though perhaps they did. He never used a chemical or took a Master Gardener's class. He just watered - and pruned his roses sharply about the time the forsythia bloomed.

The man loved roses. When my mother and sister and I went off to a party or school or work, to the cemetery or on a social call, my Dad would hand us a bouquet of cut roses to take along. Spring through fall, there was always a pot of freshly cut roses on the table and in the windowsill. I can still picture the table set on my May birthday with a vase of fragrant hybrid tea and old-fashioned roses sitting next to my cake.

So in May, I expect the roses in my yard to bloom. But in my day, the simple act of growing roses has gotten complicated. Roses are said to need about six hours of full sun, good air circulation and a soil PH of 6.5, a little on the acid side. Dad's roses grew under a shady canopy of huge spreading elms. He never counted the canes when he pruned, and he never fertilized or used a fungicide. I doubt his soil was a perfect 1-1-1 mix of the clay, organic matter and sand roses are said to prefer. I never once saw him mulch the top of the plant's bud union for protection (though he often sipped a cold Bud as he admired his healthy blooms). And forget it, spraying his plants with horticultural or dormant oil would have been out of the question for this natural gardener.

As Mother's Day approaches, I'm getting nervous about the roses in my Bay Country garden. I can't be sure there will be flowers to cut for the cemetery or my birthday table. But I do know this. If I take a walk down East Capitol Street in Washington, D.C., where I grew up as a kid, there will be roses blooming. They were planted by a man who never knew a stranger and who loved a rose.

| Issue 18 |

Volume VII Number 18
May 6-12, 1999
New Bay Times

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