She seizes me, merciless, drawing blood, each scratch burning acid on my skin. Ah, my toxic Rose. I curse you. But I have loved you too, when your heavy blooms hang their summer heads, broadcasting delicate perfume on subtle evening breezes.
I’ve learnt now. I talk to her before I begin. I tell her, Rose, I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to clear the weeds from your stem. Don’t bite me, don’t hold me. I don’t need your warnings. I understand that this patch of garden belongs to you, your aphids, your rose spiders, your thorns.
I touch her silken petals with my little finger, gently, loving her. I watch her buds as they curl, unfurl, from shy bloom to full blown rose. Each slow opening takes me deeper into her heart, until she lies before me, defenceless, luscious, ripe. Crab spiders sit crosswise in the heart of her flowers, waiting, precisely poised, for a victim. Ladybirds climb her stems, hunting aphids as they perambulate. They guard her, ladies for a woman. Sometimes I have to help, so I take a hose, cup her buds in my hand and soak the furry covering of aphids in a stream of water. They fall, writhing, in my hand, and then drip earthwards. I take every bud between my thumb and finger and roll it, stroking it while the water runs, sliming aphids and returning each tightly closed rose to pink glory. One by one, they flower, briefly, gloriously. Then the edges of the petals curve and curl, begin to brown, fray, and drop one by one, although the heart remains stubbornly alive to the end.
Sometimes I cut them away so that new blooms return. But as the days grow shorter I leave them to become rose hips, round, rosy and plump, bearing a cargo of useless seeds. When winter rains fall cold and hard, her leaves shrivel and brown, falling to join the soil. Perhaps her fruit will flavour my tea with a deep tart redness that tickles my palate and warms my throat. But winter calls for new beginnings.
Then I take out my clippers, test the edge with my thumb, wait for a break in the cloud, and go out to talk to her. Rose, I say, this will make you strong and beautiful again. I’m doing it out of love for you, not to harm you. Be gentle with me, Rose, and I’ll be gentle too.
I cut nervously, gingerly, aware of her thorns, hooked to catch and hold me. If she traps me, I can’t escape. First I have to go closer, gently, quietly. Then pause and look and while blood wells and skin smarts. Then, thorn by thorn, I free myself from her grasp. Ah Rose. Perhaps this year I’ll pull you out, roots and all. Or perhaps I’ll try again to become your friend.