My love affair with roses goes back many years, perhaps when I first received them from an enamoured suitor. The evocative deep red, the heady scent, the long stem with its painful thorns- the rose embodies all that is splendid, passionate and fateful in human existence. The rose possesses a nobility that no other flower comes close to duplicating; compared to the rose, all flowers are the poor relations, the never-do-wells, the unwelcome guests at the high society table. The rose must be the centre of attention wherever it goes.
I was so in love with roses that I grew them abundantly, the only criterion being that I had to inhale a whiff of the most exquisite perfume every time I passed one. But you see, I am reminded of Seneca who remarked thus: Consider it a great task to always be the same man. Indeed, I am no longer the same woman I used to be.
My life has known more drama than bliss. Whereas I once adored roses, my affection for them has waned considerably. The qualities the rose represents have not necessarily served me well in my tumultuous life. When I was determined to do the right, the honourable thing, I suffered or was punished for it. And as for the rose being a symbol of love, one learns from experience that romantic love is a bartered exchange. I am sure that many a twenty-something reading this will think I am bitter but examine the words carefully, expressions of bitterness are accompanied by negatives. 'I will never love again' is not the same as 'I have abandoned the idea of finding love again'.
Hard knocks have taught me to be resilient, hard-working, courageous, innovative and intelligent. Not one of these attributes is present at birth and I believe all are learned. In this respect I am more of a buddleia than a rose.
When I commuted into London from leafy Surrey, I would often find myself stuck at Clapham Junction, huddled under the one strip of roof that didn't leak. Like all commuters, I developed a knack of standing very still waiting for a train that more often than not was delayed. During these many lost hours of one's life, it is useful to have an imaginative mind in order to lessen the drone of complete helplessness. It was during these motionless moments that I first spied the buddleia on the roof of platform fourteen. I recall being mightily impressed that this flowering shrub could grow out of nothing, its roots entrenched in galvanised roofing. And yet it flourished. And flowered. I was immediately transfixed by this ability to endure, not just survive.
The other thing that impressed me about the buddleia is that it carries on regardless. Wet weather. Grey weather. Freezing weather. Drought. The buddleia is adaptable enough to make do with whatever life throws at it. In the dead of winter I have seen the buddleia flower at Clapham Junction all while balancing on the roof. The story of the buddleia is one of remarkable resilience and cheeriness. The two qualities that I have relied on to get through life are energy and optimism regardless of what is going wrong around me and it seems I share them with a shrub.
Like a beautiful woman, the buddleia also possesses its own irresistible charms: an intoxicating come-hither perfume. On my many walks in the countryside with the hound, I relish passing a buddleia in full bloom, especially in the midday sun when the scent of the flowers is exceptionally sweet and inviting. It is no wonder that the buddleia is one of the preferred sources of nectar for bees and gardeners are encouraged to plant them in their gardens. The third quality therefore of the buddleia is symbiosis. This unassuming shrub possesses an inherent usefulness within the natural world. Bees are not dependent on the buddleia but they seek it out for its plentiful nectar. Unlike the single flowered rose, the buddleia flower head is formed of many small flowers each with its own supply of nectar. I have often found a buddleia by following a very distinct humming sound and sure enough, the entire shrub would be heaving with feasting hymenoptera.
Finally, the buddleia requires no tender loving care whatsoever. In my rose-growing days, there was the annual performance of gathering horse manure, leaving it to soak for six weeks and pouring the resulting tonic onto the base of the rosebush but only at a precise moment at the end of season. Then there was the pruning (end of season and brutally for some, very carefully for others), the choice of soil (very aerated), the positioning in the garden (south facing), the warding off of parasites and leaf mould etc. In order to thrive and astound us with its beauty, the rose needs to be nurtured and cared for in extremis. The buddleia on the other hand, will flourish in spite of being neglected or pitted against the odds.
In my opinion, the buddleia possesses the most impressive and finest qualities. The rose enthralls with its contrived and artificial beauty. In this second half of my life, I share more in common with the buddleia, a perfect symbol for endurance, adaptability and self-sufficiency.