A Rose Garden

My neighbor has beautiful roses.  She’s like Julia Childs except she dotes over flowers and not food.  She dances out barefoot in the morning wearing a fluffy terry-cloth robe.  Sometimes I’m there with our lab, Lily, picking up the morning newspaper, and my neighbor is in her garden dumping coffee grinds on her plants.  Lily pees on rocks in our front yard while my neighbor sings to her flowers.  This woman sounds like a music teacher humming to a classroom of children, encouraging them to sing along.  Every spring, I watch my neighbor’s roses form, take shape and bloom.

I was more than curious about her roses, I was jealous.  I wanted a rose garden, my own, but moving several times in the last few years and not having a place to put roses gave me excuses.

And then one afternoon, I saw my neighbor.  She was gleeful.

“I’ve just planted two Double Delights!” she said.  “Jackson and Perkins (a mail-order rose company) wanted to send them to me in a month, but I called and said I wanted them shipped now.  Last year, they ran out before my zone opened for shipping, and I didn’t get any.  That’s why I called.  I told them to release the roses and send them.  And here they are!”  She pointed to two new bare-root additions to her rose garden.

It might be hard for someone else to imagine how two sticks jutting out from earth could grip me with sadness and envy, but it happened.

Double Delights were my favorite rose.  Ouch.

Done with sulking, I went inside and called the rose company.  I ordered two Double Delights, bare roots, to be shipped immediately.  I didn’t know where I was going to put them.  If I had to fill the bathtub with soil and plant them there, I would.

My birthday was approaching.  I called my husband. “For my birthday, I would like roses, pots, soil and you to go to the nursery with me to help.  I’ve already ordered a few bare root roses and they’re on their way.”

“Great,” Dan said.

That Saturday, Dan and I were at the nursery early.  It was my actual birthday and I got to point to pots and soil while Dan loaded them onto the cart.  I had a long conversation with the woman who worked in the rose section about roses.  I needed roses that could handle fog and moisture, hardy ones.  I selected one called Stainless Steel and another called Honor.  I told her I had a few coming by mail, that they’d be arriving any day and that we were getting ready.

Back home, Lily our lab sniffed the bags of potting soil while Dan and I prepared the pots, soaked the new roses and waited for the Double Delights.  Days passed, but no roses arrived.  I found myself listening for the UPS truck.  Several times, I heard it coming, but it sped past our house.  Finally, I checked the routing information on the email I had received.  I typed in the tracking number requesting a status update.  The package weighted 4.2 pounds, not much for something I’d wanted for years. I tracked the shipping route, and I saw that the roses were detained because of a storm. I worried about them, on their way, without water.  How long could they go?

A week passed.  My friend Juli and I walk our dogs in the morning.  “Are your roses here yet?” Juli asked.

“No,” I said.

She was worried about them too­­– a sign of true friendship.

A few more days passed and Juli asked again, “Any roses?”

“No,” I said.

Ten days after the initial ship date, the bare root roses arrived.  Our lab Lily was there with me when I greeted the UPS man.

I opened the box and cut off the plastic wrapping.  I had a bucket ready full of water.

“Here’s water for you, here you go,” I said to the bare root roses.  I read the metal rose tags: Clouds of Glory, Some Enchanted Evening, and Double Delight (two of them).  They were here.

The next day I separated the roots and carefully packed soil around them. I said a prayer and welcomed the four rose plants to our home.  It was the best I could do, and then I waited. Would they take?

A few weeks later, Clouds of Glory and Some Enchanted Evening were leafing out, and I cheered. When Dan came home, he cheered.  Every day, on the way to get the newspaper, I inspected the roses.  I even had Dan dumping his coffee grinds on the roses.  He’s not really a morning guy, so I didn’t ask him to sing, but despite our attention and love, the Double Delights remained sticks in the dirt.

One afternoon, I took out a magnifying glass and inspected the stalks.  I wanted to believe that I could see tips of leaves starting to form, but I didn’t. The ends were starting to dry out. That evening, Dan and I looked at the two bare roots and decided to clip off the dead ends, to try to stimulate growth.

I discussed the problem with Juli.

“The Double Delights may have gone too long without water,” she said.  “You may have to call for a refund.”

I wanted to believe that the Double Delights would make it. I hoped they would make it.

“Keep watering,” my neighbor sang to me from her rose garden.

Good Friday came and went, and I wondered if my roses were truly dead.  I hoped that maybe on Easter I would see new growth, a sure sign of the miracle of life.

Easter morning, I went out to inspect the roses.  The others were leafing out.  Buds were forming.  Blooms were coming.  But the two Double Delights appeared shriveled and dead.

Reluctantly, a few days later I called the rose company and asked for a refund.  They had a policy, “If it doesn’t grow, let us know.”  The woman and I agreed that the bare root roses probably went too long without water.  It must have been the storm delay that got them. They didn’t have any more in stock.

I felt quiet and sad.

And then two days later, Dan came into the kitchen carrying the empty coffee filter.  He had just put grinds on the roses. Dan was full of enthusiasm.  This doesn’t happen often in the morning, unless he’s off to an early sporting event with one of our boys.

“Come!” he said.

Lily and I followed Dan out to the roses.

“Look!” he said. “Look!”

He and I bent over and looked.  There on one of the Double Delights was tiny, miniscule, but definitely visible, new growth.  I could see the first hint of a red leaf coming out of the stalk. It was as long as a grain of rice.

“It’s alive!” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

We stood there, his arm around me, looking at the bare root rose, with tears in our eyes.  Hope is precious to the weary.

Dan smiled.  I smiled.  We would have Double Delights again.  We had left a beautiful rose garden in Phoenix when we moved to California several years ago.  After a hard move, he and I were finding our footing, rediscovering hope, new life and beauty.

Dan left for work and I started humming.  One of our teenage boys went to school.  The other had the day off and was sleeping in. I left the front door open because it was a lovely, sunny morning, and I started making business calls.

I was on the phone when I walked to the front door.  I stood in the doorway to admire the roses, and then I saw dirt strewn all over the patio.  I was slow to register what had happened, not really believing it was possible.

Lily had torn out the Double Delight, the one that had the new growth.

She wasn’t quite two yet.  One could still call her a puppy.  I have also called her my spiritual teacher because she gives me many opportunities to practice my vow to not act out act out in anger and to breathe deeply instead.

Breathe, I told myself, breathe.  I ended the phone call.  They say there is a split second where you can choose how you respond.  I am still working to capture this split second, to remember that it exists.  I started calling Lily in a voice that meant she was in trouble.

Breathe, I told myself, breathe.

“No,” I said to her, “No.”  I pointed at the dirt and the empty pot.  She cowered in an admission of guilt and resisted looking at what she had done.  Her snout was covered in potting soil.

My son Scott heard my voice and came from his room.  He had bed-head and was still wearing PJs.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Lily tore out the Double Delight,” I said.  “Dad discovered new growth on it this morning.”

I was holding back tears.  Scott searched the yard and eventually found the bare root rose.  It was chewed and damaged.

“I think we can save it, mom,” he said.  His kindness calmed me. Scott found clippers in the garage, trimmed the shredded stalks and cut away dangling roots.  I got the broom and swept up the dirt while Scott turned on the hose and refilled the pot.  Together we replanted the bare root rose.

I said another prayer and the wait began again. Many days passed and still there was no new growth on the one that was damaged.  And then, one morning, I saw a sign of change.  A tiny bud was coming out of the stalk, fresh and alive.

And now as I watch buds start to form on the Double Delights, I see.  I see that despite delays, droughts, and dogs, each one of us has a beauty that is unique, resilient and determined to bloom.


A dream… Men, Chocolate and Roses
A dream…
Men, Chocolate and Roses

The author

About Kathleen Buckstaff: Kathleen Buckstaff is an award-winning author, columnist, performance artist, cartoonist and photographer. She currently writes for The Huffington Post and wrote regularly for the Los Angeles Times and The Arizona Republic. Kathleen performed her one-woman play to sold-out theatres in CA, AZ and NYC and expanded the play into a book called The Tiffany Box, a memoir which was honored in 2013 as a USA BEST BOOK AWARDS finalist. Kathleen’s book Mother Advice To Take With You To College: Humor, Inspiration and Wisdom To Go was released in March of 2014. Kathleen’s abstract photographs of lilies were exhibited for the first time in April of 2014. Kathleen has a BA in Creative Writing from Stanford and a MA in Journalism from Stanford. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, their three children and their dog Lily.