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Smelling rustled roses

By on June 27, 2018 in Articles with 1 Comment

Susan Sampson sniffs the sweet perfume and spicy leaves of Common Moss.

By Susan Sampson

“Stop and smell the roses,” the admonition goes. I do, probably overmuch.

I’ve always been around a few roses. A thornless climber with large pink flowers covered the post that supported one end of my mother’s clothesline. A moss rose shrub completely covered with thorns guarded the pole at the other end. It was wicked to keep weeded.

When I started my own garden, nurseries offered almost exclusively hybrid tea roses having only a few, largely bare canes, each topped with a single showy flower at a time. Only a few were perfumed, and some of those were horribly susceptible to infections of powdery mildew and blackspot in our damp Pacific Northwest climate.

One day I saw a magazine article that described roses that weren’t found in nurseries any more. Many had been brought by American pioneers from old European gardens and handed down through families and friends. I was intrigued. I wondered whether I could find any.

That’s when I became a rose rustler.

I began by searching the alleys in my Seattle neighborhood. Sure enough, there were climbers with stiff, upright canes clambering over the tops of old garages, dense rugosas with crinkly, mint-like leaves sending suckers underneath fences into the next yard, and ramblers with canes sprawling across the roadway, being run over by garbage trucks.

If a plant were encroaching the right of way or were being run over, I felt justified in taking a cutting. I’d save that plant for posterity.

My grandmother always said if you steal a start, it’s sure to grow. I drove the get-away car and recruited my sister to take a cutting from a red moss rose that I’d spotted growing in a ditch. Just as she was done harvesting my start, to tease her, I yelled “Hurry! Here they come!” She flew into the car and wrenched her back, but the cutting thrived.

Soon my small urban yard was crowded with roses.

My letter carrier left a note that I’d have to cut them back, or he wouldn’t deliver mail to my porch any more. My yard was his shortcut to all the neighbors’ boxes, too, so I had to comply.

When I had enough roses to cut bouquets, I’d bring them to work. They brought me new friends.

An amateur master pole-vaulter, Chad Bollinger, came by my desk at Seattle City Hall to introduce himself and talk about roses.

Later, when I opened my own business in a rental suite, the landlord provided a janitorial service of workers whom I’d never see. Like the shoemaker’s elves, they swept through at night, vacuuming and carrying out the trash. One morning I found a note from the janitor, Jenny Howard. Her hobby was growing old roses.

We met at her back yard, where she named all her old European varieties, pronouncing their names in perfect French. Jenny and I each met Mike Darlow, who grew a few old roses and perennial flowers to sell, until he packed it in and moved to Hawaii.

At last the internet arrived, and I could find old roses online. I moved again, to the high desert of north central Washington, where it’s too arid for blackspot.

I’ve lost track of Chad, Jenny and Mike, but some of my rose friends are still with me.

Climbing American Beauty still covers my fence. Common moss is so vigorous that I have to root-prune it with a shovel and prune with a hedge trimmer to keep it in its place.

My wild Rosa canina that followed the Cedar River railway, growing in clumps all the way from Seattle to Maple Valley, reaches nine feet high and screens out the view of a messy lot.

Harrison’s Yellow, which might be “The Yellow Rose of Texas” followed me home from an abandoned farmyard.

I could ramble on. I could tell you how early Jesuits in Asia collected wild species and how the Empress Josephine collected roses across the battle lines of French and British wars — but as I said, you’d think that I’d lingered a little too long, smelling the roses.

Susan Rae Sampson, a U-Dub graduate, retired from law and moved to the Wenatchee area in 2009.

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  1. Sandy Jones says:

    I enjoyed this story.

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