The Rose Garden

by Madeline Nixon
Ontario, Canada
genre: General


No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get the roses to grow. Every guide, every person, every internet search had told her that roses are easy. They’re a staple plant. Good for landscaping. Thrive in direct sun or shade. Easy.

Easy for everyone except her. 

Three years she tried to grow the garden. Three years of wasted time and money because the damn roses weren’t growing no matter what she did. It didn’t matter if they were in sun or shade. It didn’t matter if they had enough water or too much or too little. Nothing but chaos mattered to these stupid roses. But it was the fourth summer now and her greatest fear was the roses dying on her once more like some kind of cosmic sign from the universe telling her that everything around her is destined to die. 

She kicked at the stones surrounding the expanse of earth she created that first summer. The dirt anticipated growth that it never received. A tear slipped from her guarded eyes and she ripped off a gardening glove to swipe it away. She wouldn’t let the roses get the best of her. Again. 

This project bordered on nightmare, yet she still refused to use container roses, arguably the easier way to grow a rose garden. So for the fourth year in a row, she ordered the bare root roses, soaked the roots in water overnight, and stood before the five holes she’d dug in the soil. The early spring sun beat down on her back. Sweat formed on her neck below her long ponytail. She was half convinced the sweat was from nerves rather than heat. It wasn’t yet hot enough for that, but it was perfect for rose planting.

With her gross, dirt crusted rain boots, specifically bought for this dumber by the moment gardening project, she stepped into the elevated garden. Well beyond the point of caring about the state of her closet, her knees sunk into the damp earth, soaking her jeans. She dug her hands into the bucket of compost and soil she’d mixed together that morning and threw a small amount into each of the holes. Delicate hands planted the roots as if they might fracture and break and fall to pieces at the slightest touch. And let’s be honest, it was her. Anything was possible with these damn roses. 

She filled the holes with her compost mixture, compacting the earth around each of the roots, ensuring the crown of the plant was level to the ground. As she twisted open the slow release fertilizer, a string of curse words filled her mind. They gave her pause. Her hands stilled on the screw off lid and she breathed in the earthen air. Could negative thoughts permeate through her mind and into the cursed soil? She couldn’t have one more thing, something directly related to her, ruin the rose garden. 

“Please,” she whispered as she sprinkled the fertilizer over the roots of each carefully planted flower. “Please, work this time.”

She couldn’t risk saying another word to her plants for fear of breaking down in her garden and never getting up again. She bit her lip, instead, and made her way over to the hose, fitting it with the perfect nozzle. As water drizzled from the hose, quenching the thirsty soil and roots, she let the tears slip down her cheeks, barely managing to stop her cries once the watering was done.

She stared at the glistening garden, shading her eyes from a sun flare. Her afternoon of work. In the moment, she couldn’t tell if it was worth it. Her shoulders slumped as she tried to whisper another plea to the gardening Gods, but no words came out. 

She cleaned her supplies and went back inside. 

A month passed. 

Then another. 

Her front garden thrived while her roses died. Her heart sank further into her stomach, one failure away from breaking entirely. 

By June, all of the roses died. 

She threw her gardening gloves against the fence and screamed at the top of her lungs because of how unfair the universe was to not give one inch for her on this one specific thing. It was the only thing she wanted and it wouldn’t give. No matter how hard she tried or how attentive she was or how much effort she put into these stupid roses. The universe didn’t care about anguish or want, it only wanted to take everything good and everyone great. 

She sunk to her knees before the garden and rested her head against dirty stones, crusting rocks and soil against her forehead. Four years gone. Four years. She sobbed in summer sunlight for what felt like four years, not caring that her bare arms were turning red or her legs itched against the scratchy grass. She cried until no tears were left and her breath came in shudders. 

Whether it was because she was done with this whole damned project or another more earth shattering reason, she looked up. She gasped. Yes, her roses were dead. Four of the five plants were brown, wilted, crumbling beyond the point of no return. 

But on the yellowed, brittle leaf of one rose was a speck of green. 

She scrambled to her feet. She didn’t know what to do or how to make it work, but she was going to will this little rose bush to survive, even if it killed her. She scoffed. Wouldn’t that be the most fitting way for her to go?

With frenzied energy, she put all of her Google based knowledge to use. In order to save this rose, she’d have to dig it up, rehydrate it, then repot it. It was back to basics all over again, but she could do it. This burst of renewed enthusiasm would do it, she was certain. After repeating the steps she’d used at the end of March to originally plant this rose, she moved it to its new home. 

The terra cotta pot sat next to her back door. Sure, it wasn’t the rose garden of her dreams, but it was one single rose that she could say she grew and that was another form of her dream. 

Over the next few weeks, the rose bush brought itself back from the brink of death. It was a first for her, a source of immense pride. The deep pink blooms made her smile every time she glanced outside. It was as though her grandmother was looking in, smiling right along with her. 

All summer, the rose bush thrived. The miracle of the little thing surviving that long made her heart soar every morning when she woke up and saw it and every errant moment it crossed her eye line. She had never been more proud of herself. She had a lot to be proud of, and maybe it was stupid that she felt growing this rose bush and keeping it alive all summer was her greatest accomplishment... But... it was. 

Late in September, she pruned the bush and cut a piece from it. She wrapped the root in water soaked paper towels, hoping to propagate and repot it elsewhere before frost hit, in enough time for the rose to go dormant, then bloom again in spring. Obviously, she was no master rose gardener, but she hoped this miracle rose bush would hold up for just one more miracle. 

She loaded the rose and all her gardening supplies into her car and drove. As she passed cars and suburban homes on the route that had become all too familiar to her, she voiced similar pleas to the ones she had back in March. 

“Please work,” she whispered. 

She blinked her tears away and turned through the open gates. Her car stopped in its usual spot, next to an overhanging willow tree with a quarts rock garden at its base. She slipped from the driver’s seat and into the fresh air of the cemetery. Wind whipped her hair around her face. She brushed it back from her eyes and shot a watery smile toward the black speckled grave on top of the hill. 

She removed everything she needed from the backseat of her car and trekked up the small incline.

“Hi Grammy,” she said, kneeling before the headstone. She set the rose down. “I thought you might like your roses back.”

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