A rose by any other name still hurts

Throughout history, poets and philosophers have acted like roses were the greatest flower ever. This baffles me. My garden features a large, unwieldy rambling rose, and I’m terrified of it.

Granted, it’s beautiful. While my other flowers generally give way to weeds as my interest in gardening wanes over the summer, this rose is unstoppable. It blooms prolifically late every June, putting forth a show of hundreds of hot pink flowers. It captivates passersby and distracts them from the wasteland that surrounds it.

But it’s trying to kill me.

I mean, all of my flowers are trying to kill my spirit. Each year, they succumb to my neglect, reminding me of my inadequacy as a gardener. But the rose is out to destroy more than my ego; it wants me to bleed to death.

To be clear, this is not some fancy, rarefied kind of tea rose that requires special anti-fungal treatments and the gentle care of a gardener with an MBA in pruning. This is a hardy rose with a flashy smile and a cruel streak. It smokes unfiltered cigarettes.

A couple of weeks ago, to appease it, I got it a new, larger trellis. Installing it involved extracting the rose’s treacherous canes from the old one and weaving them through the new one.

Local sales of Band-Aids went through the roof.

This rose sends out canes that are six or eight feet long and studded with barracuda teeth. Each cane is stiff near the base, making it hard to bend. So, should I get pricked by a thorn (which I will) and flinch, the cane will spring out of my grasp and, with the sound of a whip snapping, grab me by the ankle or neck. In my flailing to escape, I will catch the unwelcome attention of any number of other canes, until I’m caught like a fly in a spider web.

And this rose has other dirty tricks. For example, once a thorn has punctured the pad of my thumb and left a gaping, painful hole, the rose will purposely stick other thorns in that same hole every time I touch a stem.

“Wear gloves,” you say. Sometimes I do. It’s almost worse. The thorns, after driving themselves into my flesh, often detach from the cane, magically passing through the glove material in the process. This leaves me with a thorn embedded in my finger, but inside the glove where I can neither see it nor remove it. (I can, however, locate it without taking off the glove by watching for the growing blood stain.)

On the day I put in the new trellis, I spent over an hour pleading with the canes and explaining (Ow!) why they should (Ow!) bend ever so gently (Ow!) this way (Ow!) or that (Ow! Ow! Ow!). It was a slow and fraught process, but in the end, I managed to train every cane through the trellis. To say that I won, however, would be to ignore the wounds that left me looking like I had tried to put a Halloween costume on a bobcat.

And the rose wasn’t done with me. This past Sunday, I went out to clean up the rest of the garden. Bending down to dig out a weed, I apparently invaded the rose’s personal space. Out of nowhere, a cane shot out and grabbed me by the hair. (Don’t worry; I freed myself before nightfall. And the bald spot hardly shows.)

In a couple of months, of course, the rose will bloom, and in its glorious fuchsia display I’ll forget how much it hates me. But only for a few weeks.

Later in the summer, during one of my two or three fleeting attempts to weed the garden, the rose will get me again. Feeling constrained, it’ll sneak out some new canes — not up in the air where I can see them, mind you, but along the ground. Five feet away from the trellis, I’ll reach down to pull out a handful of my primary crop, ground ivy, and instead I’ll firmly latch onto a thorn-studded cane. A lively scene of agony and bloodshed will ensue, wherein I will regale passing bicyclists with language nothing like what the poets of old would have come up with.

Take Ralph Waldo Emerson. He once said, “There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.”     

Ten dollars says that man had a hired gardener.