When men grew roses. I had scrawled this across a page in my notebook months ago and underlined it for importance. Unfortunately, I had not expanded on this train of thought, thus I have been pondering on what I may have meant ever since. For reasons beyond my comprehension, the answer arrived this morning as I was doing a matron’s round in the garden. Gramps.
My grandfather, Gramps, was always the Gardener’s gardener. My grandmother was a force, I would rate her as a Category Five on the modern scale. Even in later years, heading for ninety-four and “filling in time” in poor health, as she often observed, she still had a presence about her that could not be ignored. Her sparkling blue eyes belied the force and accuracy of her walking stick.
Like many of her generation, she was an extremely accomplished and capable woman: highly productive in her continuous output of whatever craft she was currently undertaking (many and varied with mixed results), she maintained a quick and cutting wit, was an unsurpassed storyteller and a supreme organiser of adults and children alike. Her great unwavering passion was her garden.
My grandfather was also capable; of great patience. He too maintained a quick wit; he was kind and unhurried and interested and fun. Loved by all who met him, we all shone in his presence. His great unwavering passion was my grandmother, and so he was the Gardener’s gardener.
For many years, this meant he was a jobbing gardener, a role which I must say is not without its charm. Whilst he did not partake in the big picture decisions, he undertook them all the same. From my childhood, I recall he spent most afternoons helping Nan in the garden. Afternoon smoko was set out under the trees on the lawn, the table and chairs laboriously carted out from the pergola by unwilling grandchildren and then returned in much the same manner. Then, the gardening would start. Gramps dug over beds, carted manure, pruned and carted away garden debris. The details are hazy but his presence there is clear.
I don’t recall Gramps ever having to weed the big circular rose beds; that was a task (punishment) for the four grandchildren though perhaps he did when we were not there? As children, we all hated those rose beds with their vicious claws scratching at our backs as we crawled around and under them, filling our buckets with weeds. We very quickly learnt the difference between an Iceland Poppy and a thistle, there were no prizes for weeding out the annuals. There were no prizes at all actually; perhaps a dried apricot each if we had done a very good job.
The vegetable garden was far less scarring, though quite daunting in its size and efficiency. I always thought a weed would not be brave enough to show itself in there, though we still had to guard our allocated rows. If you were lucky, the strawberries would be fruiting, Nan was open to a bit of catch and kill. The orchard was decorated every year with scrunched up newspaper, also tied on by her young gardening squad. I am uncertain if it kept the birds at bay, she was an excellent shot so maybe the birds respected that if not the flapping newspaper.
In their retirement, my grandmother discovered many more cultural pursuits, undertaken with the same unwavering enthusiasm she always held. There was sewing and patchwork and charity work and spinning. When not chauffeuring my grandmother and her friends around, Gramps had his racing crew who met every Wednesday at the track. He also took on much of the gardening and grew the most fabulous roses.
All those years of tuition and practice resulted in the best roses they had ever grown. Nan even graciously referred to them as Gramps’ roses, his vegetables too. He grew copious amount of Chokos which he would carefully pack into boxes and cart down to the railway station to consign to his western grandchildren on the Westlander. We would all ring each other on the old phones, shouting down the party line did you get another box of chokos?
I imagine Nan quite possibly, undoubtably, directed some of the rose growing; she always grew her special ones and I think the red rose Eugenie was her favourite. I am certain she told me her mother grew it as well, though I cannot find it on any rose list now to pinpoint its age.
Gramps loved all his roses, in particular the pink rose Dearest, generous and sweet, it is well named indeed. He tended his garden as he did his family, with great love and interest and kindness. It too shone in his presence. We are so lucky that men grow roses, though I admit I am still no choko fan.
The Moble Gardener.