We're well into June, and thus you are overdue to meet the roses. Some of them are already spent fireworks, like the red rugosa, which covered itself in glory and a perfume so intoxicating it's almost a caricature of what commercial fragrance engineers consider "rosey." Here are the rest of the clan, still in bloom:
This is Cardinal Richelieu, presumably named after his royal-purple-velvet vestments. He blooms first and only once, usually accompanied by a flush of color-coordinated columbines bobbing at his feet like altar servers.
Here's Coquette des blanches, a Bourbon rose first bred in 1871. What's with the name--"white coquette"? This girl is temperamental, growing ridiculously tall but often producing a gorgeous crop of stillborn buds due to "balling." It seems to be weather-related, because last year she didn't drop all the buds. This year: every bud in this picture is already dead, a ball of faded furled petals. Damn.
Meet Golden Celebration, a David Austin rose (he's a breeder who crossed many of the gorgeous characteristics of antique or "heirloom" roses, like intense fragrance and full, cupped flower shape, with the reblooming ability of typical garden-center hybrid tea roses). This bush pumped out a staggering show this spring after I spared its life; the canes clearly had canker (a brown, spongy interior) when I pruned them. But now the next generation of buds has wilted over pathetically; the canker may have caught up with it. So the celebration may turn into a funeral. Notice that this "yellow" rose, after sun exposure, gets splashed with deep pink as if by a watercolorist.
Flopping over like a tall girl drunk at a party is Katy Road Pink, also known as "Carefree Beauty." No matter how hard I prune her, she grows to six or seven feet tall; last week's rainstorm beat her into the compost heap, but she didn't seem to care. This is indeed a "carefree" rose, and I've learned that she qualified for a wonderful program originated at Texas A&M University called "Earth-Life Roses." Since most people think that roses won't grow unless you bombard them with chemicals (and some, like typical hybrid teas, fulfill that fussy stereotype), these researchers set out to identify roses that would, basically, grow in a vacant lot. Anywhere. Since this is the level of care I lavish on my beloved roses, it makes sense that my surviving bushes include not one, but two on the list, including this darling:
On the right is Perle d'Or, a polyantha, who covers herself in dainty bouquets (which aren't designed to make good cut flowers, but you can't have everything). The buds look, indeed, precisely like golden pearls. This particular bush has two special claims on my heart. One, it blooms over the final resting place of our beloved cat Hodge. (Hodge had diabetes, and whenever I water the rose, I think fondly of my ever-thirsty boy, who was kept happily going on two daily insulin injections for two years.) Second, this plant was hand-dug and given to me by master rosarian Stephen Scanniello years ago at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, when the entire Cranford Rose Garden was undergoing renovation. I was a docent there, and word got out that Steve was giving away plant stock. He picked it out for me, lifted it on his spade, and with a practiced hand broke it into two perfect specimens. (One since died, but this one is ripe for division.) Steve is now president of the Heritage Rose Foundation, by the way. The lavender flowers to the left are Nepetia "Six Hills Giant," which should grow to massive proportions but remains "Six Hills Shrimpy" because the neighborhood alley cats roll in it. Oh, another dear departed cat, Gordon, rests beneath the catmint. Note a miniature purple-red rose flourishing in the planter box.
And finally, the June Bridezilla of the rose garden: Maiden's Blush, a thorny and sprawling alba that blooms once a year and enslaves me for the remaining 11 months. This monstre sacree tosses out four-foot canes with abandon, upon which bloom roses whose fragrance causes people to moan, cry out, and just gaze in wonder as they sniff. It is a rose perfume out of another time, given like some fairy-tale reward for the sacrificial labors of slashing it back and deadheading it as it tears my flesh. (I've tried leaving the hips to ripen, but the birds can't be bothered eating them.) My favorite story about this rose: Its name in French is Cuisse de Nymphe Emue, or "Thigh of the Aroused Nymph." In English: "Maiden's Blush." For my money, this tells you absolutely everything you ever need to know about the English versus the French.
Maybe it's the scent of petals in the air, or just desperation, but I have finally undertaken a long-feared project: breaking up the cement in the 'Garth.' A cloister garden, or garth, is what the driveway reminds me of now that we fenced it in, and it gets tons of sun. And I need space for tomatoes now that the raspberries have muscled into the former vegetable bed area. But I can't afford the manpower for Guys with Jackhammers, or even sledgehammers, to toil in the midday sun. (Bestfriend and I want to do an off-Broadway play about our lives as cash-impaired chatelaines, called "I Am My Own Mexican.") So I bought a sledge and protective goggles and had a bash at it. It wasn't as bad as I'd feared, especially if I whack away at the periphery of an existing crack. Here's the first fruits of my labors. The sorriest part is that a thick layer of aggregate underlies the cement pad itself, a sort of concrete double-decker sandwich. As I excavate, I will start layering on compost and manure. And I will perform reparations for our neighbor down the street, who is busily landscaping with a cement truck.
If I make sufficient progress, there may be room for...more roses!