…is a rose … — Gertrude Stein

…speaking the language of roses. Pink for simplicity and innocent love; red for passion and desire; white for innocence and purity; yellow for jealousy and perfect achievement.

There are roses in France, planted in the Middle Ages, still going strong.

It’s said that garlic should be planted with roses to keep pests away and a folk practice I learned from an aunt in Ohio holds that planting roses with a lump of fat or salt pork or a bit of goose grease will make them plumper and happier. I recently put in a Sir Benjamin Britten (below) and gave it a shot of whiskey — my mother’s method of cheering roses on.


Roses evolved in Central Asia 60 million years ago. Their fossils have been found in North America. They’ve been cultivated for 5,000 years, first in China, where the red rose was called “Flower of the Goddess.” At Troy, the “Queen of Flowers” decorated the shield of Achilles, as well as Hector’s helmet when they fought their final duel.

"Choosing the Red and White Roses, " Henry Arthur Payne

“Choosing the Red and White Roses, ” Henry Arthur Payne

Another political botanical emblem, the English Tudor rose unites the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster after the brutal Wars of the Roses in the 15th century.

Tudor Rose Chichester Cathedral

Today, the rose is an insignia for far-flung nations from India to Peru, where Santa Rosa de Lima became the first native-born saint of the Americas in 1671. Named for the rose, because a servant claimed that when she was an infant her face transformed into the flower, Rosa, patron saint of embroiders, gardeners, people ridiculed for their piety and the Peruvian Police Force, seemed mostly to have the flower’s thornier attributes and not its luxuriant qualities. She was known for her zealous aceticism and wore a silver crown with tiny spikes that dug into her skull.

From pictures where her eyes are rolled back, we can easily imagine how her head must have ached.

Santa Rosa de Lima