Monday, April 13, 2009


My father bought our first house when we arrived in Washington DC. Our first house! It meant we, at last, owned ground and Dad was going to make the most of it. He planted several trees around the perimeter of the property. The only one I remember was the mimosa. And he planted flowers, lots of them. But what I remember the most were the rose bushes.

My brother Bob helped him on the basement reconstruction project. On alternate weekends, Dad took my brother to the dump and they would come home with all kinds of building materials: scrap lumber, old bricks and pieces of paneling. From all that stuff, he had my brother straightening nails, squaring up the bricks and cutting the lumber into usable pieces to be used as headers for doorways and such. My brother was about 10 and my father wanted him to feel like he was a part of the building project and teaching him about tools at the same time. The only part my brother didn't accomplish was actually installing the door itself - a little too complicated for a 10 year old, my father thought.

On the other weekends, he and I would work on the lawn and the plants. We would head out to the woods and look for rich soil to bring home to create an enriched planting base for the flowers. We mixed the soil we dug up with fertilizer and loam he bought from the gardening shop to create a rich base into which we planted our flowers. It was my job to dig up a trench about eight inches wide and eight inches deep, dispose of the rocky detritus across the street in the drainage ditch and refill the trench with the mixture we created for the flowers.

You may be getting the impression that my father was some kind of a fanatic, an impression our neighbors surely had but to his sons, to his sons he was a teacher and we learned our lessons from scratch and were intimately involved in whatever project he dreamed up. For my brother, the project was the wall that separated the laundry room from the workshop - the entire wall, floor to ceiling, from framing out the doorway to the finished paneling of the wall itself.

My Dad started talking to the owner of the gardening supply place that he frequented. He began gathering information about breeding roses, the darker the better. He confided in me that he wanted to breed a Black Rose, something that had never been done before. The manager of the supply store told him to buy a dark red rose bush and put some black ink in the water but my Dad wasn't interested in "cheating his way to the Black Rose," is how he put it. He experimented with the Black Baccara and Black Jade varieties which are really red but have dark undertones.

He figured that breeding them together would bring him closer to the Black Rose than any other way. He gathered all manner of tools to separate the pollen and used paper hats to keep the germinated plants apart. I helped him with the actual work of germinating the plants but I'm certainly not going to stand on ceremony and say I'm a little bit of an expert here. I'm not. It was my Dad who did all the heavy lifting; I just helped with the scut work.

What I do recall, however, was the pruning I did in the dead of winter.

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