When I left California for Seattle nearly seven years ago, I brought with me three rose bushes. These had lived in pots on the patio of the apartment Kimberly and I shared in Menlo Park, and I had no idea how they would withstand the trip, or the Seattle climate, but I brought them anyway. Their pots were set out in our front yard, near some pre-existing, in-ground bushes planted by the previous owner of our house. At that point, I made a mental note that, when I got a chance, I would transplant the roses from the pots to the ground. Assuming they survived the first year.
Each rose plant was different, and each was potted rather inexpertly by me, before I really knew anything about roses. One had a miniature yellow flower, another a standard size pink, and the third was a specimen of the Double Delight cultivar, with both lovely multi-tone flowers and wonderful fragrance. The first two were in terra cotta pots, the third in a redwood one, and each had a different, haphazard mix of soil in its pot. I had no idea what I would see happen to these plants in their new home.
Surprisingly, though it is much wetter and colder, they didn’t just curl up and die. In fact, they managed to survive quite a while during a time when other things in my life were taking priority over my roses. The plan to put them in the ground was temporarily suspended while waiting for a grand front-yard re-landscaping that, in fact, never happened. Yet they survived in their pots, and lived through occassional “random drive-by attacks” of care involving trimming, fertilizing and spraying.
Still, it was clear the yellow miniature wasn’t truly happy here. Perhaps the climate, perhaps the pot, perhaps it was never really meant to be a real outdoor rose. It gradually succumbed, its flowers pale, almost white, and after a few years it stopped even putting out the sad little leaves that seemed only good for attracting black spot. Fini.
The pink rose, which started bigger and stronger anyway, also never thrived here, but it took longer to fail. I think that, if I’d been the gardener my grandfather was, I could have saved it, but I lack his discipline and regularity about tending my yard. I can go long stretches without really paying attention, and the pink rose would have needed more attention than it got.
Finally, just the Double Delight remained. Despite the reputation that its type does not tolerate wet weather, and is susceptible to black spot AND mildew, this rose loved it here! Every year it grew stronger than its mates, and bloomed almost compulsively, several times a year. Despite my lackadaisical care, it survived.
A couple years ago, we realized that it was doing more than surviving. Having grown impatient with my inability to find time to plant it, it had taken matter into its own, well, roots. Burrowing their way through the moist wood bottom of the pot, roots had crept down into the soil beneath, and started to expand in several directions. Gradually, the pot itself started to lean to one side, as the roots pushed and pulled it off-center.
Still, I must confess, this did not spur me into action. (In my defense, the last two years haven’t been full of excess physical energy for me.) Yet, each day that I would leave the house, I would have to see the tilted pot, and think, “Man, I’ve really got to get that rose in the ground,” and feel simultaneously guilty, overburdened, and increasingly ashamed. Sometimes I would try to imagine how the process would go. Would I have to cut an enormous tap root? Would that kill the plant? Was the bottom of the pot completely gone? How would I cope with the fact that the base of the plant was a foot above the surrounding soil, if there were roots everywhere? And then I would go off to do whatever I’d been on my way to do when I left the house in the first place.
Today, the weather was sunny and relatively warm in Seattle. It was perhaps the first good day for working in the yard, unless you are one of the diligent ones like my grandfather used to be, or our neighbor down the block is. I went out to survey the overgrown disaster that is our yard. In California, if we ignored our plants, they just died. It was fairly self-limiting. However, as we are fond of saying to each other, “Stuff just grows here.” If you ignore your yard, it doesn’t die, it becomes overgrown and mangy. But today, before I could notice the overgrown grasses, or the dead stalks of daisies from last year, my eyes fell upon the valiant Double Delight and its woeful leaning pot. The sun was shining, it was warm, and the time had finally, finally come.
In the event, the process of planting it was easier than I had imagined. I started by digging a hole next to the pot, approximately big enough to hold the contents of the pot with the base of the rose sitting at the proper height above the soil. Then, I gradually shoveled small bites of soil out around the base of the pot, and got down to investigate. Though shattered, there still remained pieces of wood that had been the pot bottom, and there were aslo a variety of small-to-medium sized roots extending down into the ground. I cleared soil away from a number of these, and cut them some distance from the pot. This allowed me to lean the pot even further to ones side, so that now the bush was at 45 degrees off vertical.
A quick trip to my tool bench and I was back with some snips which allowed me to cut the metal straps holding the boards of the pot together. I removed the boards one-by-one. After sprinkling some transplanting fertilizer mix into the hole, I was able to gradually roll, push and finagle the clump of soil from the pot, with the rose root structure within, and various of the previously trimmed ground roots into place. A bit of back filling, and it was done!
It was only then, as I gathered up the fragments of redwood pot, that I was struck by the symbolism of all this. Kimberly and I have been talking, now that we’ve decided not to move to Oakland, of really investing more effort into making our lives here what we want. We’re committing to stay. And now the rose is in the ground.
I feel pretty optimistic that it will survive the move. There are some roots in the ground that made it intact, though they now run sideways instead of down through the bottom of the pot. In the years since I first potted it, I’ve studied up on roses, and I had good success transplanting some others left us by the previous owner. I know what I’m doing now. Most of all, this has been a very strong plant, and has shaken off quite a lot. It strikes me as resilient and durable, like somebody else I know.
Now, instead of having a twinge every time I go down the driveway, I will have a little burst of pride. My rose is starting a new, and hopefully happier, phase of its life, and so am I.