The gift of a rose: one of the solutions to the end-of-year panic
The depths of midwinter offer little opportunity to enjoy outdoors, so it’s far better then, says Alice Vincent, to curl up with a good catalogue and plan your summer garden. Illustration Alice Pattullo
It seems particularly cruel that when festive mania reaches its apex, it’s near-impossible to find time to grab a moment of quiet in the garden. Even those of us who are at home during the day will struggle to find eight hours of serviceable daylight in which to do so. It’s cold, and grey, and the garden is either sleeping – for those well-prepared enough to have tucked it neatly away under a thick layer of mulch – or sprawling, messily, like someone who ought to leave the Christmas party and just go to bed already. I’m hardly Ebenezer Scrooge but I do find this time of year challenging as a gardener; when the to-do lists seem endless and the existential year-end panic greatest, the place that is so often my solace feels distant.
There are some solutions to such malaise. Forcing bulbs and growing indoor-flowering species such as hippeastrum offer some floral fanfare; bringing foliage and greenery inside is another (if you’ve sarcococca nearby, a few heavenly scented sprigs in a vase can lighten the mood) and so is visiting those gardens that are particularly good in winter, such as Trentham. The most effortless, though, is browsing leisurely through seed catalogues, which can be done from beneath a blanket.
Much like plant tokens, it took me a while to come around to roses
In 1951, two days before Christmas, Vita Sackville-West dedicated her weekly Observer column to roses, for the reason that ‘the very thought of a rose will be warming’ and ‘roses can still be planted any time between December and March, so it is not too late to order extravagantly on any plant-token you may receive as a Christmas present’.
Plant tokens as Christmas presents remain the stuff of childhood memory for me; my father’s family would readily exchange the things each year – something I thought quite hideous while small, and now would obviously be very grateful for. Instead, though, I’d cut to the chase and either stick a rose on your Christmas list or buy one for someone else – most of us have too much stuff, but few with outdoor space could deny accommodating a rose.
David Austin’s catalogue is a coffee table-book worthy thing, perfect for hunkering down with
Much like plant tokens, it took me a while to come around to roses. I think I always considered them fussy, both in aesthetic and maintenance; all that pruning and feeding. Instead, as Camila Klich of Wolves Lane Flower Company told me several years ago, “you’d have to be Cruella de Vil to kill a rose”, and so it has proved. After much deliberation and overwhelm, I ordered a bareroot Rosa The Generous Gardener (= ‘Ausdrawn’) from David Austin during the winter of 2020 and, after leaving it first in its bag, and then in a bucket, for far longer than strictly advised, now enjoy its pale-pink flowers every summer. It was swiftly joined by another and together they’ve moved around the garden every year since – from the shaded, scrawny east-facing bed to the more generous and open north-facing, where they have a Victorian wall to scramble up. This winter I’m going to cut both back quite vigorously, having not been brave enough to do so during year one (my favourite rose-pruning advice comes from Laetitia Maklouf’s The Five Minute Garden: ‘simply look at the thing and cut off the bits that don’t work for you, creating a pleasing framework, and tying the remaining stems on to their support in a horizontal fashion’) and then move them into a sunnier corner, where they can clamber up a new pergola.
Of course, I’m tempted to buy another every Christmas; David Austin’s catalogue is a coffee table-book worthy thing, perfect for hunkering down with. But the real gift of a rose is something less materialistic: the promise that comes in a cardboard box with nothing but an expensive twig inside; the ritual of dunking it in a bucket on a cool morning, knowing it is preparing to wake up to longer days; the feel of good, rich earth between your fingers and the effort of digging a hole. Most of all, what is top of my list? The idea of cupping soft petals between fingers, and gently diving in to inhale that scent. A second of summer in the depths of winter.
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