A cottage in the woods with roses for me?

Once, I saved dish towels and aprons in a hope chest and fantasized about my future home. Nothing fancy. Instead, it was always a cottage adorned by fragrant, climbing roses.

Not very original I know . . . . How many girls who read Regency romances don’t dream of a rose-covered cottage and picket fence with two cats in the yard. Books have been written, and songs composed about such. So many that some girlish fantasies come with a heady aroma tinged in rosey hue. Mine did anyway.

Rosa 'Apple Jack' with our old, iron bell. This rose is outside our bedroom window, and when I open the doors, I can smell its sweet fragrance in spring. It only blooms once a year.

In Oklahoma, the land of prairie and sun, this dream of mine was not very practical, and my personal exterior displays a very practical girl usually clad in blue jeans, t-shirt and tennis shoes. If you met me, you would wonder where the dreamy artist is, but my inner life is full of fanciful notions.

On an ill-fated vacation in Missouri when I was twenty-two, I saw a log cabin perched on the side of an Ozark mountain, and my heart leapt. I longed for a log house that felt a part of its surroundings. Yet, I still wanted it covered in roses. I pondered these dreams, which were very different from the life I was living in a mobile home with someone who didn’t share my fantasies. Therefore, I  didn’t discuss them, but, instead, held them like the precious pearls they were.

Back of the house with an unnamed climbing rose at right. I bought it on sale at a store, and it had no tag.

I got away from the person who sapped my hope and energy, but it took awhile. I am also stubborn, and sometimes, I want to bend things to my will. My first marriage was one of those things. I now understand with my whole heart, that I was sapping his strength too. You see, no one is all bad, or all good, but we are all entirely human.

Did you spend much of your 20s trying to figure out who you were? I did. I think many twenty-somethings do. Although I spent much of every day in various cubicles and towers downtown, in every place I called home, I had a bit of garden . . . , maybe only a small bed, a container, or even a sprig growing in a window, here and there. How could I know I was building for better things? I had no experience.

'Frontier Twirl' has such unusual coloration. It is the perfect foil for the yellow baptisia and the red Japanese maple behind it.

Still, the dream clung to the back of my consciousness, while I grew up and learned what was needed to survive. I’m not going to lie to you. Some of those years didn’t feel beautiful or fruitful, but they were.

'Cl. Old Blush' on an arbor in what was the original entrance to my vegetable garden, but now in the center of things.

When I was ready, I met Bill. He was dashing and handsome . . . still is, but I didn’t trust my own instincts. I’d had bad fortune before when I didn’t see through outward disguises. How was I to know if he was my Prince Charming?

Hesitantly, we dated, and eventually, he invited me back to his castle.

When I drove up the gravel road and turned down the drive, I couldn’t see much in the waning light, but then, suddenly, through the overgrown pasture, there it was: a log cabin. I felt a small catch in my throat. It couldn’t be true, could it?

The cabin looks very different today from what it once did. I'd say together, it like our lives, has significantly improved.

Laughing over meals and drinking coffee, we fell in love, and I discovered why the pasture was overgrown. Bill was working night and day, six days a week for a paving company in Shawnee, over an hour away. After nearly a year of dating, we married. Together, we worked to make the cabin more sound. We caulked windows and stained the exterior, and for years we were broke. Between the two of us, we could barely squeeze a dime, but I still realized my dream was coming true, rose by rose, year by year. We were blessed with three daughters and a son, with one daughter a marriage bonus. The children are nearly all grown now, except for Bear, who is a teen herself. Over the years, with a landscape only limited by my imagination and red soil, I added roses, a few every year. I’ve lost count, but several snuggle the cabin’s exterior, which we enlarged to accommodate our family. Now the cabin seems very large, and I added roses to the garden at its feet. We planted trees for the future and shrubs and perennials. It is now our prairie paradise, but it took:


Effort, and


'Cl. Old Blush on arbor from outside the garden

Every year is different from the last which keeps things interesting . . . in my marriage, my family, and my garden.

This spring, we’ve received plenty of rainfall perfectly spaced. You can do everything possible to have a beautiful garden, but without rainfall, nothing will thrive. I added five roses this year and removed two. The roses I added?

Rosa ‘Mary Rose,’ a David Austin or English rose. I’ve placed her on the east side of the house in the rose garden between ‘Footloose’ and ‘Buff Beauty,’ which have been there for over six years.

R. ‘Cl. Pinkie,’ a Polyantha. I once planted ‘Cl. Pinkie’ on my white rusted arbor, but once Pinkie bloomed, she turned out to be ‘Cl. Cecile Bruner.’ So, I loved and enjoyed the fair Cecile for many years until we had that record-breaking cold snap in 2010 of negative 17F. ‘Cl. Cecile Bruner’ climbed no more. I dug out dead canes and roots, and I replaced her late last spring with Wisteria frutescens var. macrostachya (Kentucky Wisteria) ‘Blue Moon.’ I noticed the other day that ‘Cl. Cecile Bruner’ has come back from her roots and is now starting to climb the wisteria. Not what I expected after such a terrible cold snap, but as in marriage and family, you never really know what’s going to happen no matter how well you plan. It’s all good. The two will be very pretty together, and because ‘Cl. Cecile Bruner’ was on her own roots she will be true to form.

If you want a wisteria, plant an American native one instead of the Chinese or Japanese variety. They are more mannerly in their climbing style and won’t pull down your structure. They are a lovely blueish purple, and they bloom later, usually avoiding late freezes. The one I planted to replace ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ on one side of the main arbor started to bloom yesterday after the rain. The flowers are held in long racemes.

Little lamb with 'Zephirine Drouhin'

So, I placed the new, real ‘Cl. Pinkie’ on the wall against the east side of the house where she will have plenty of room to climb up the trellis. It was in bad shape after we had the house stained last spring. Bill rehabbed it for me a few weeks ago.

Then, I planted ‘Zephrine Drouhin’ next to ‘Cl. Pinkie’ along the same wall. So pretty. You can grow ‘Zephirine Drouhin,’ a Bourbon, as a shrub or a climber. I think I’ll keep this one as a larger shrub.

The roses I replaced were Grandma’s Blessing Easy Elegance®, Sweet Fragrance Easy Elegance® and one other I can’t remember. The first two I was given to try, but they just didn’t work well in my garden. C’est la vie.

'Grandma's Yellow' rose

When I was at a local nursery, I also bought two ‘Grandma’s Yellow Rose,’ formerly known as ‘Nacogdoches.’ Roses are frequently renamed if the original name doesn’t catch the buying public’s eye and wallet. This rose was a foundling in Texas and originally named after the county where it was found.

Conard-Pyle Company sent me two shrubs of R. ‘Meikanaro’ Sunshine Daydream to try this spring. I’m excited because it is supposed to be another disease-resistant yellow rose. One of my daughters has a passion for yellow anything, and I’ll think of her when these roses bloom. Shiny healthy leaves are fleshing out the strong canes, and we shall see.

R. 'Darcey Bussell,' a David Austin which performs really well in my garden, up against the house where it doesn't get too cold.

As for me, my love is a red, red rose, and when I found my prince, I didn’t expect him to make the cottage rose-covered for me. I did that myself with his blessing. That’s what great marriages and friendships do. They provide the framework of our dreams.

Merely sleeping

A garden long ago.

One spring, forty years ago, a young girl toddled after her grandmother in the small yard behind her grandmother’s white-frame house. The girl was five with plain, brown hair cut into a bob, and cat’s-eye glasses perched upon her nose. She wore black, patent, Mary Jane shoes which pinched her feet and a dress sewn by her mother out of cotton, made soft by many washings. Her grandmother shortened her long strides for the girl to follow. She grabbed a hoe and made a short furrow in the dark earth. The girl bent over and dropped gray and white, striped seeds into the valley made by the hoe.

The earth was damp with dew and black from all of the compost and manure lavished upon it. It hummed with life.

Of course, the little girl didn’t know all these things then.  She just knew she wanted to be near her grandmother. Smelling of soap and starch and home, her grandmother knelt next to her and showed her how to cover the seeds, pat the soil, and put them “to bed.”

Thanks to the National Sunflower Association

The girl laughed and said  she didn’t think the seeds were sleeping. Her grandmother professed the seeds were just like Sleeping Beauty. They needed water just like Beauty needed her prince, to wake them when it was time. So, she handed a blue, plastic watering can to the girl who sprinkled the earth where the seeds lay.

The little girl’s parents came to pick her up, and, because they lived far away, it was summer before the girl returned. Still, she remembered the seeds, and she wondered if they had woken from their slumber. She tugged on her grandmother’s hand. As her grandmother bent her dark head for a hug and kiss, the little girl whispered in her ear, “Are they still sleeping?”

Her grandmother smiled and gave her a squeeze, “We’ll go look in a bit,” she said.

Lunch was on the table, and with the taste of fresh, sliced tomatoes, green beans and cornbread, the little girl forgot the seeds. Plus, she was soon sleepy. Her mother lifted and carried her back to the bedroom which was always hers when they came to visit. Her grandmother covered her with a quilt, and soon, she was fast asleep.


When she woke, she rubbed her eyes and remembered. She ran into the kitchen, and although the adults were now on their second piece of pie, drinking coffee and catching up, her grandmother pulled her into her lap.

“Do you still want to see the seeds?” Before the girl scarcely had time to nod, they were out  back. The screen door slapped behind them with a squeak and slam of its rusty springs.

The girl threw out her hands and stood bewildered before the garden plot where vegetables now vied for space with flowers, and chickens clucked from their covered yard nearby. For, in front of her were sunflowers so tall, she had to shade her eyes and throw back her head to see them. Their nodding flowers nearly blotted out the blue of the sky, and their stems were almost as thick as the little girl’s wrists.

“Where did the seeds go, Grandma?”

“That’s them,” said her grandmother with a smile, “When they woke up, they grew and grew until they were taller than me and you.”


Many years later, the little girl, now grown and a mother herself, rushed to her grandmother’s bedside when her father called and said, “Come soon.”

She held her grandmother’s hand on one of the darkest days of winter just shy of the Solstice. Now old and tired, her first and truest friend, who had taught her so much about gardening and life, lay dying, but she opened her eyes when she heard her granddaughter’s voice.

As her granddaughter leaned in close, she heard her say in a voice as thin as crepe paper, “I hate this time of year. It’s all looks so brown and gray. Everything is old and sad. The trees, the plants . . . even me.”

For the grandmother knew her heart wouldn’t hold out much longer, and fall and winter always made her sad.

A tear traced down her wrinkled cheek, and her granddaughter’s eyes leaked in sympathy and sadness. She searched for the right words to comfort this woman she loved so much.


“Grandmama,” she said, “They’re only sleeping. They just need a bit of  rest like you. You are Sleeping Beauty. When the time is right, your Prince will come, and you will wake from your sleep.”

A sad smile tugged at the edge of her grandmother’s mouth, and her granddaughter knew she remembered the day they planted seeds together. She closed her eyes and spoke no more while her granddaughter kept vigil by her bedside the rest of that long, cold, lonely night.

Now, when the granddaughter sees the dark, gray and brown of an Oklahoma winter, she always thinks of her grandmother, and she whispers to the wind, “He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”