Unrequited Love: When Roses Don’t Love You Back

By Teo Spengler | February 9, 2021
Image by photographer
by Teo Spengler
February 9, 2021

I could best describe my relationship with roses as unrequited love. I love roses but roses do not love me. This sometimes happens in a relationship, and it’s always sad for one or both of the parties. 

In my case, I always felt the plants were laughing at me even as they withered and died. But there is no hard evidence supporting that theory.

Rose Garden Dreams

I do believe in the wisdom of planting native wildflowers and shrubs wherever possible. Over the years, I have learned that native plants thrive where others languish, that they grow willingly into happy and healthy members of the garden, providing nurture for local pollinators and cover for regional wildlife.

Yet the big, beautiful, fragrant roses always manage to seduce me. I have a little, curving stone wall in front of my stone house in France with a curve of flower bed in front of it. In summer, it is drenched in sun, yet thanks to the wall and the proximity of the house, the site is protected from winds from the north, east and west. This is where I decided to install my rose garden. 

Unrequited Love

As a writer, I should have known better, but no, I thought it was funny to select, as a first specimen for my little rose garden, a cultivar called ‘Unrequited Love.’ The little plants came in medium sized pots and looked vibrant and healthy, with deep, forest green leaves and promises of fist-sized crimson roses. I bought two, installing them on either end of the curve.

In between the two, I planted other rose varieties that caught my fancy. The only name I remember now is ‘Andre Le Notre.” Why not pick a rose named after the landscape architect of the gardens of the Palace of Versailles? 

All went well for about a month, leaves grew, buds appeared. Then one day, a wild Basque pony got into the yard and ate every one of the roses down to the ground.

Second Verse

Second verse, same as the first. A new spring, new roses, a new fence around the property. This time I had no wide-bellied pony to blame. The roses developed leaf spot that resisted all of the leaf spot treatment in the garden store. One of the leafless rose bushes produced a flower whose petals were scattered by a south wind, and all of the others died without blossoms.

This story repeated itself for some years, with different variations. Each spring presented different challenges to my newly purchased roses, and every challenge inevitably turned out to be fatal. 

At last, a friend brought me a gift of cuttings from her hydrangeas and I planted those in the rose garden instead. They flowered happily the first year and every subsequent year. But some people never learn the lessons life offers them. My heart still swells when I see a beautiful rose in someone else’s garden. 

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