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Late bloomers: lessons from nature

pink climbing rose

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There is a pink climbing rose outside our bedroom window. We must have planted it around 2009 when we had building work done. I can’t recall the name and the label is long lost - it is a soft mid pink, properly flowers only once and has great floppy, strongly scented open flowers. That it is on an east facing wall of a bungalow will have no bearing on the variety as I am terrible with roses at picking them for romance rather than reason but, if you recognise it from the photos, do let me know.

I planted it near to the french windows and my vision was that each June, as we flung open the doors to welcome warm nights, the sweet scent would waft into my dreams.

pink climbing rose

For all of twelve years that rose looked peaky. A little bit thin, a little bit twiggy, malnourished, prone to aphids - not dying, not bad enough to dig out, but certainly not living up to my voluptuous vision.

I kept meaning to do something about it - but that bit of the garden is enclosed and only accessible via the house. It isn’t a space that I pass watering can in hand, just one that I admire while getting ready for bed. It was a classic example of only noticing something to be done when I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it and then, when I was up and about, simply forgetting. The rose had to fend for itself.

Last year, after twelve years of a few flowers, it produced a dozen flowers - I picked them for my bedside table, worried that this might be its fanfare - for the leaves were still pinched and pale.

Then this June we returned from a fortnight’s holiday, went into the bedroom to unpack and the whole wall outside was pink with blooms. I opened the doors and the swooning scent trapped within the small garden, pulsed in waves into the house. Too many to pick, too many to dead head, a great blanketing softness. Overwhelming in its beauty, sudden vibrancy, lust for life.

There is a beautiful song by the Americana duo The Secret Sisters called Late Bloomer. The first verse is about hanging a humming bird feeder out on the porch in March. How everyone said the birds would come to in Spring, the disappointment when none did and then the joy on spotting the tiny wings at the feeder in September. It is also a song about the constriction of the socially expected timetable of women’s lives and how looking at nature unfurling in its own time gives hope and comfort at a time when everyone else seems to be ahead. “It doesn’t matter when you bloom, it matters that you do”.

I assume that my rose kept growing invisibly each year - all its effort going down to send roots down, a little each year, exploring, experimenting until they reached a patch of better soil. Biding its time, seemingly late, until it found the right conditions - and then - wow, what a blooming.

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