Oh boy, are the roses ever good this year. They loved the prolonged blast of sun we had at the end of May and onto into June. Friends from Kent, York and Ireland all sent me photographs from their gardens: pink, yellow and white blooms, as full and buxom as Gina Lollobrigida. It made me think of an Elvis Costello song (I’ve since learned it’s actually an old George Jones country classic): “It’s been a good year for the roses / Many blooms still linger there / The lawn could stand another mowin’ / Funny, I don’t even care.” In the song he’s been unlucky in love (what else) and the only thing to give him a lift is the sight of the roses. Untilthe week before last, their glorious profusion had been worthy of note; then, seemingly out of nowhere, Hector hurried through and in a matter of hours the plump fullness we had all been celebrating was plucked, pinched and trampled. Some trees were taken down from their very roots and others had huge branches ripped from them. In full leaf, they were the land-based equivalent of a sailing boat putting its spinnaker up in a storm – an invitation to be pitched asunder in the squall. And so, just as we thought everything was set for summer, a garrulous gale caught us unaware, and nature reminded us of its all-powerful ability to enact sudden change; a rude reminder that, fundamentally, everything is uncertain and unpredictable.
I didn’t venture far that day for fear of something falling upon me. I was somewhat disappointed by my own inner cautiousness, telling myself – it’s just a bit of wind. Nonetheless, I remained indoors and battened down the hatches. That evening, A. called to say a tree had blown down in a suburban Edinburgh street seconds after she had driven past it. Like me, she didn’t know whether to feel elated or terrified by the near miss. It’s another example of uncertainly and turbulence, I told myself, as I walked around the city the following day, thinking about close calls and seeing dismembered braches and deadwood at every turn. Hector had slunk back into relative calm leaving behind a disappointing mess. I got a call from Ireland to tell me the roses I had been admiring just days before had been left in tatters – limp lupins broken and raspberry canes whipped (or caned) into submission. It’s not what we assume for June. Storms pushing through in April or September are predictable, but fallen oaks in June, well that’s a bit of a heart sink. What was its lesson? Maybe it was a sharp reminder that things come out of nowhere then subside quickly, leaving one feeling shaken, a bit damaged, and – like those upturned trees – with a sense a of groundlessness. That safe feeling that summer is ahead of us, and that the fruits of our labour in the garden were beginning to pay off, did an unexpected somersault – whoop! – leaving us in a dizzy stagger. When Hardy comes to Hardy, we don’t really know what is going on, we have no control over the basic elements, as even the wind can send us on a course from tranquility to turmoil and back to tranquility again.
Ten days later and the sun has returned. Hector has become a distant memory, the resilient roses are quickly re-establishing themselves, and we are back tending the roses. There is an enduring World War One song, now 102 years old, that draws on the image of the rose as a sustaining symbol: “Roses are shining in Picardie, in the hush of the silver dew, roses are glowing in Picardie, but there’s never a rose like you, and the rose that will die with the summertime…..but there’s one rose that dies not in Picardie, ’tis the rose that I keep in my heart.”
Congratulations on this year’s roses, and enjoy them while you may – they are looking well.