Back when Guts and I were first married, I got to have one of the things I wanted most: a garden. We had a ramshackle old house in a small Vermont town, and although the house was really no bargain, and the lot sloped off to a river bank fully forty feet below, we got two wonderful benefits: a view down to a fast moving creek, and remarkably fertile soil because some of the preceding owners had kept chickens.
I therefore had the priceless benefit of a layer of vintage guano worked into the soil of our front yard. Naturally I did what anyone who is a fanatic does when fate has just given them free reign. I gave in to my obsession. I mean, I planted a lot of roses. There were hybrid teas, and hybrid perpetuals, and hybrid gallicas with neon bright colors, and there were shrub roses and ramblers, and climbers, and there were singles and doubles and cabbage roses and moss roses. I think I went a little rose mad at the time.
There were roses in the vegetable garden just to cut for the house (so as not to spoil the display of the roses in the front garden) There was even a rose fence extended by me from the suckers that our rugosa roses sent out, punctuated at intervals by (oh the relief lilacs) and then continuing on as more rugosa roses. That place in June, a couple of years after my tenure there, looked like a Wedding Park and smelled like paradise because I didn’t then, and still don’t now, see the point of a rose without a scent.
But because no one who is as obsessed with roses as I then was, can stop with just a few, I was always digging holes for more roses. This is how it would go. I would find something I absolutely had to have, like the old single rose Dainty Bess and then before I even ordered it, out I would go and dig the hole. The fact that the rose wasn’t there yet was irrelevant, the soil would marinate in the hole for some months before the rose was planted and the results when they were finally planted, were stellar.
Now my husband will attest that hole digging for any other genus of plant was not at all my sort of thing. I often left it to him, and in fact Guts dug the whole front garden in the first place. That was the home of perennials and such annuals as I would heave in to fill a gap.
Rose holes, however, were holes of a different magnitude and importance. I would dig rose holes. I would also spend some considerable time over them because my theory was that the bigger the rose hole the better the later rose acclimation.
Now this always entailed coming across some seriously big rocks a foot or two below the surface because I was in New England and these rocks, souvenirs of the last Ice Age, are forever surfacing in New England soil. I would sweat and cuss and then go get the crowbar, and stick one end under the latest rock behemoth and jump on the other end. It was most unscientific but effective and also gratifying.
Once the hole was two feet or more deep and at least two and a half feet or more across, I began to have a feeling of satiety, if you can have such a feeling after producing a concavity, and I would start to fill in the hole. The idea was to replace the heavy clay I’d just pulled out with compost and peat moss and cow manure of which, as you might imagine, there’s a fair amount in Vermont. Once it was filled in and jumped on once again- my gardening was action gardening when I did it at all- then I would dust off my palms and go order the rose.
All the rest of rose growing was by comparison sedate, though there was always a wonderful suspense before the first bud of any new variety opened, but for me the scent of roses is always preceded and accompanied in my mind by the smell of dirt.
There really is no smell quite like the smell of dirt and roses, even if the rose smell is memory or anticipation and the mud is present and accounted for. Lots of rose perfumes are out there now but none of them really smell like roses to me, not really. What really smell of roses are roses. Here are some of my best ones: