“Do you mind if I take some pictures of your roses?” I put one foot down, pausing in my morning ride to take in the glorious burst of blossom.
They aren’t really her roses.
They’re also mine and, if you pay county taxes here, yours, too.
But she’s the one out there in the welcome sun, weeding out the sow thistle and pruning back the spent blooms.
It seems right to ask for her permission.
She looks up and grins, “Sure. Go right ahead. Come right in, but be careful. Some of these are really thorny. But you’ve got to get up close to smell them. You want me to move out of the way so you can get pictures?”
I put the kickstand up, “Actually, I wanted you too, working with the roses, if that’s okay.”
Happily, this pleases her.
I tell her, “I like the hat.”
“I got it from Walgreen’s,” she says, “It works well.”
The roses are even better up close.
And unlike most of the pampered darlings growing in unquestioned abundance in Portland’s Test Rose Garden, all of these are heavily and beautifully scented.
“Did you smell that one?” she points it out to me.
“I did. It smells almost like raspberries. I’ve never smelled one like that before.”
“It’s wonderful,” she says.
“So do you volunteer here?” I’m wondering if she’s doing this on her own? or maybe part of the Master Gardener program? employed by the parks department?
Volunteer. She’s here most mornings, when it’s not too rainy. I love volunteers. The whole idea that some things are so worth doing, we don’t have to be paid to do them.
Or are willing to be paid in other forms of remuneration, “It’s great here,” she gestures at the sunny square bordered by blooms. “The roses, the baby birds back in the corner making their noise.” I can see from her face this public space is also a Secret Garden, full of healing and quiet delights.
“Do you want me to hold that one up for you?” she offers. “So you can get a better picture?”
“So how’d you get started?” I ask her.
A friend’s family member was doing court time and she’d given her a ride. Sitting in the car. Bored to death. “I saw those roses needed help. They needed some work, so I just called up at the people at the county. It’s not about the money, I told them. I’ll just do it for free.”
She turns back to her work. She’s got an assistant today, a young guy, highschool-aged, and she sets him a last task before he breaks for lunch.
I bend over the sweet-scented bushes to get some close-ups.
“But you’ve got to look at this one,” she points out another I haven’t gotten to yet.
Soon she’s walking me around, showing me the best ones. (They’re almost all the best for something.)
“Who planted these?” I ask her. “Do you know?”
“I don’t know,” she says sadly. “They’re old bushes. They’ve been here a long time. I mean, look at that old stone in the old courthouse. Maybe they’ve been here that long.”
Then she points out the healthy, leathery leaves of one variety. The shape and pale shades of another. The deep sweet smell of another. “This one isn’t Mr. Lincoln. It’s similar. But Mr. Lincoln is a little deeper, a little bigger. I’ve been trying to figure out what this one is.”
Her love and knowledge is apparent. I have to ask her if she grows roses of her own.
She did, when she was living at her dad’s. Now she’s homeless.
“Oh, look at this one! Do you see that? And they’ve still got the dew on them. That makes a good picture, doesn’t it?”
It’s not just the roses. She points out the magnolia trees that grow in front of the new courthouse. “They only bloom a short time in July and last only about a week. This is the best time to see them.”
And the baby birds squawking in the background. “They’re scrub jays, hear that? Steller Jays have a call more like this – and she scritch-scritches just like the birds that used to come eat the cat’s food on my back porch.
When it’s time for me to get back on the road, I have to thank her. Not just for the almost, not-quite spent roses she snips and gives to me to carry in my bike basket.
Not just for her pleasant welcome. Not just for her willingness to be photographed, her eagerness to introduce me to each rose.
I’m grateful for what she’s doing – on her own, with what she has – to make my town a sweet place to be on a sunny morning.
And if you’re looking for someone to lavish your roses with some well-deserved attention, let me put in a good word . . .
what MAKES it | BREAKS it
+ community spirit
+ public gardens
+ talking to strangers
+ old-fashioned roses