When I took these photos, I think I was planning a post about growing roses. That makes sense, doesn’t it? I’d posted a tour of my garden on Instagram and had so many questions I promised a blog post. And, you know me, I always like to promote David Austin roses and tell his incredible story of persistence through failure.
And I will. I’ll share all my best rose knowledge, I promise. But indulge me for a minute while I muse about creation.
We’re living in unprecedented times of chaos and uncertainty. This past week especially, I’ve been feeling frustrated and discouraged. So much is out of our control.
How’s it going at your house? Really?
We’re enjoying the time together but we’ve had some big disappointments– canceled jobs and internships, anxiety, loneliness, depression, plenty of misunderstandings, frustration, discouragement and real fear for the future.
Last week felt especially hard as we began to understand we’re in this chaos for several months to come. The necessary changes to systemic racism in our country, Stefan and Heather got word Harvard won’t reopen until January 2021 at the earliest, Gabe will definitely be doing an at-home MTC (more on that later), we’re genuinely concerned about contracting Covid-19 and not being able to see Ben and Sammie and baby Fritz
I was working in my garden last night, cutting down all the roses in these photos that are now bloomed out and I remembered the year I decided to create this sideyard..
Like most people in suburbia, we have about 10′ from the side of our house to our neighbor’s property line. It’s not a lot of space and for the first 11 years we lived here it consisted of a sad patch of grass, a few overgrown bushes and a genuinely lovely rose arch. The roses on that little arch grew well. In fact they were so strong they picked up the little wire arch and swung it around until Erik and the boys cemented it into the ground.
In fact, just days after they cemented the arch, we decided to put a pool in the backyard and destroy the side yard completely (if you’re debating about putting in a pool, I can wholeheartedly say it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. For people like us, who genuinely love to be at home, who have no interest in a cabin or a weekend away, it’s the perfect gathering place, activity and a great little business teaching swim lessons).
Obviously, putting in a pool represents incredible privilege (I hid it from the blog for a long time) and we are grateful for our little oasis every single day. Still, if you’ve put in a pool, you know it doesn’t just mess up the yard, or kill a few plants, pool building DESTROYS a yard– especially the path they use to bring massive equipment into our backyard– that path was our sideyard.
What had once been just kind of pathetic and useless, transformed into a giant, ugly mud pit. I forbade the kids from walking through there and tried really hard to not even look at it myself.
When it came time to put it back together, I was just about to recommit to the patch of grass and overgrown bushes, when I thought, “Why not create something beautiful?”
There wasn’t much space– just 10 to 12′, mostly shaded by the house next door with a big retaining wall on our neighbors’ side, the water meter and air conditioner hugging our house. Still, I knew roses would grow, and I suspected ferns and hosta and morning glory could create a magical fairy garden. Instead of our 2′ rose arch, what if we created a 20′ tunnel of roses? Instead of big ugly bushes, what about a Japanese Maple, a magnolia, strawberries and raspberries for children to pick on hot summer days?
After searching online for a massive rose arch, I decided we should make our own. Ben and I took on the project together: measuring, planning, buying steel and finding someone to bend it for us. I haunted the garden section of Home Depot for plant shipments: forget-me-nots, bleeding hearts, foxglove and columbine. We planted privet hedge around the air conditioner, clematis and ivy soon disguised the water meter, a row of yews covered the retaining wall and created secret-garden like privacy.
I traded photography work with my friend Jose in exchange for our blue garden gate and ordered roses from davidaustinroses.com. When you order bare root roses, they arrive looking like sticks. Planting them requires faith. But if you dig the hole, put them in the ground and add water (a little rose food is nice too), they will grow.
Was that the year I became skilled at run my own sprinkler lines? I think so. I decided to stop asking other people and just learn how to do it myself. I ran a line to every rose, to each tree and each bush.
Not everything grew. A few of the yews died, and rather than replacing them I decided we needed a bench. I found some cushions on sale, designed a bench to fit them and after a two year delay (I did not learn welding) cajoled my boys into creating our beautiful magical garden bench.
Why am I telling this story? I’m sorry it’s so much longer than I intended. I’m trying to remind myself– I can take an ugly, garbage situation and create something beautiful. I don’t have to go with the obvious, roll over and let it happen ‘solution.’ I have CHOICES. Sometimes, I forget that truth. When I’m standing in front of a torn up, out of control portion of my life I can’t always see the possibilities.
Spending time in the garden these past few weeks reminded me who I am. I am a problem solver; I can learn new skills; I have people who will help me; I can create a vision and bring it into reality. Will every plant thrive, will it grow as I imagined? No, some plans need to die and make room for garden benches and hydrangeas. For something better.
At an online baby shower for Sammie, it was her mom who gave the best advice. She said, “You create the magic. The world can rage outside, but in your own home you are the creator.”
She’s so right. We can choose.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with a boring, this-is-just-how-it-is side yard. I had one for many years. But we need to recognize our choices in life– especially with our family. I should point out, the magical garden didn’t cost a penny more than putting in grass and a fence, it simply took more time, imagination and energy. My yard had to be torn up, before I woke up and created something better.
We’re being torn up right now: as individuals, as families, as a nation, as members of the human race. We can look around in dismay, or we can wake up and create a vision of something better. I think we all sense this virus, this year, it all means something. I am not fully enjoying the tearing up process. It’s ugly and painful. But I am determined to create something better.
p.s. about the roses: I buy my roses from davidaustinroses.com. I only buy bareroot roses and they always have a 15-20% off code from January 1-March 15. I heard someone say they are expensive, but when you consider a gorgeous bush or climber that will grow for decades and bloom several times a summer and fill up a large spot that seems ridiculous. That said, I rarely buy more than 5 a year because I like to enjoy the process (and digging holes in my rocky yard is pretty miserable). The website has masses of information and planting guides for your location. They will even advise you on which roses to plant and where to put them in your yard. When buying, pay attention to the predicted size of the rose bush. Don’t overcrowd your roses. See this giant yellow climber below? That’s ONE Thomas Graham. It’s about 12 feet tall and has thousands of blooms. So don’t overbuy. Honestly, you cannot go wrong with a David Austin. I throw rose food on them once a year or so (and some years I forget entirely), cut them down hard after blooming and that’s it. Pinkie promise.
Laura A Graham
This was a lovely read tonight. Thank you Michelle!
Love your words, encouragement, and the roses!
I love your posts!!!
Crying. I needed this. Love you and yours so much. xo
Such beautiful words and beautiful pictures. I love the perspective here. Thank you for all your wisdom. Always.
We are all finding our way through this, and it has felt like such a wilderness journey of sorts. Each day, there is a search for manna, especially the spiritual kind: a bit of comfort and strength in it all. Yesterday, I prayed so hard for comfort (as we’re wrestling with some of the ways this pandemic has impacted us), and the Lord was so generous. Last night, we laughed harder than we had in a long time, and it felt like a much needed rain shower during a drought.
I just love what you have done with your roses and how perfectly this all fits into what we’re all going through.
Sending much love your way
Love these. I’ve been reading for many, many years and remember an old post where you detailed some of your favorite varieties. . . but can’t find it anywhere. I have five bushes going strong now but my varieties just seem more boring than most of these. Please help us know what some of these are!