To Cherish the Little White Rose

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The four rose bushes in my Marian garden represent each traditional color of the Mysteries of the Rosary: yellow/Glorious, red/Sorrowful, purple/Luminous, and white/Joyful.

Over the years, I’ve attempted to learn how to grow roses so they thrive. In the process, I’ve discovered that they take more care than other plants in my yard, and—which was news to me—each rose classification also has specific needs.

When the long-stem yellow rose blooms, it is beautifully formed and the picture of perfection, though it lacks fragrance. Of all the bushes, it is the most delicate. Its long slender stems are easily damaged by the slightest of storms. It looks so dramatic and pitiful with its thin branches bent to the ground, and its perfect bloom laying wilted against the mulch. A tragedy in a single stem.

I delight in the full-bodied bush of the red rose; its blooms of low petal count allow the fluffy yellow center to stand in glorious contrast. Its fragrance is refreshing and intense, filling the morning air with a yell “It is I, ROSE!” If it were a performer it would emphatically drop the mic in front of the crowd. Of all the roses, the winter consistently kills the red rose to the ground. Each spring, after cutting away the blackened dead-wood, I wait, certain that this is the year it hadn’t survived the winter. Weeks later than any of the other bushes, I am grateful to be proven wrong as multiple burgundy stems and dark shiny leaves push through the ground.

The purple floribunda is compact and sturdy, nearly wild in its habit. It haphazardly bursts into clusters of flowers, fragrant and fluffy. The five-bud groupings come and go with surprising rapidity. The blossoms open and melt in a synchrony of breaking bud and wilted death, leaving the bush in continuous state of messiness and anticipation.

It is the white rose that challenges me most. It has a classic rose shape in bud and flower—when it makes one. Its fragrance is rich and heady—if the bloom opens. Nothing I do is ever enough for it to thrive, and barely enough for it to survive.

I love white roses. They were my grandmother’s favorite, and she had a ten-foot wide trellis of white climbers each June. White roses are symbolic of Rosa Mystica, the white rose of Heaven without thorns, our Virgin Mother Mary, as she is called in the Litany of Loreto. I wanted to cherish a white rose bush planted near the Marian statue.

I researched cultivars to select the sturdiest rose for my Zone 5 garden. Bought one and planted it accordingly. The light is good, the soil rich, and I fertilized and watered appropriately.

And yet…and yet…

The little white rose bush is always under attack—by black spot, caterpillars, and especially Japanese beetles that bury themselves deep and relentlessly devour the petals.

I’ve learned that the pests of roses attack this white rose the most. Is it more tender and easier to consume? Are the petals more desirable, tasting ’sweeter’ to the bugs? The other bushes suffer very little, because the white rose is in the garden. It could be what is termed a trap-crop: a plant used to attract pests to prevent damage to the main crop.

That precious white rose, which never quite makes it to the fullness of beauty, has a purpose—it protects so that others may grow. That’s a special kind of beauty, all its own.

1 Corinthians 14:26

So what is to be done…when you assemble, one has a psalm, another an instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Everything should be done for building up.