A Herbalist’s Valentine’s Roses

An early spring day. This feels like the first day of Spring in Wales, although many would call this ‘winter’ by its meteorological definition. But how can I call this day ‘winter’? The birds are singing, the bees are flying, and all around me, plants are waking up; their leaves shooting forwards from bursting buds. It is starting to warm up; a thin jersey is ample protection from chills. How can this day be winter?

A Herbalist's Valentines Roses

What else would a Herbalist be doing on Valentines day but be working with Roses? As it happens, most of the roses you see in shops at this time would never normally flower – this is what Roses do look like in February however. And I have a whole bouquet of them. Cuttings of all sorts of different medicinal varieties, striking in water. These will go on to become lovely, vigorous ‘own root’ roses.

Visits to shops at this time, from the village corner shop to the largest supermarkets are filled with Valentines’ Day ‘material’. Cards, chocolates, jokey gimmicks… and Roses. This always seems strange to me; unless you live in the Antipodes, the only Rose that should be flowering at this time of year is a silk one. I read recently, that many of the roses on sale in our shops have been flown in from South and Central America – literally half way around the world. My god, what a thought! Heaven knows what affect it has on the environment, and goodness knows what pathogens they may bring them. Like Pocahontas meeting the white man, my Roses certainly will not be immune to whatever these specimens may carry.

Yet it is a salutatory reminder to me that it is indeed Rose season. And I spend precious time in my garden working with them. It is time for their annual pruning, sculpting if you will for the year ahead. Dead wood is cut off, and shoots that cross other branches, or detract from the shape of my Rose plants are removed. But not wasted! It is surprisingly easy to get the medicinal Roses, often very hardy and vigorous plants to strike from cuttings. In fact most roses are easy to strike. The only exception to this being the Hybrid Tea Roses; notoriously finicky, if highly lovely plants.

I have about fifty cuttings from my pruning activities. Some, I will graft onto root stocks – usually wild dog roses. Most I will leave in water to grow their own roots. You can strike them in pots of compost, but I find that they need a lot of water if you use this method.

So, I have my Valentines’ bouquet. I have Damask Roses, Gallicas, and a few English Roses that I keep to feed the soul. In a couple of years they will be nice little shrubs, and should flower abundantly in three years time. If anything could symbolise the love between gardener and garden – or between herbalist and herb, it is the beautiful Rose. So today, I feel loved. Those that love me have sent messages, which feed the heart. My love for my craft and vocation is symbolised not with a bunch of flowers; but with a pair of secateurs and a contented afternoon in the garden, marking the start of my spring.

Footnote: If someone does give you a bunch of cut roses, you can still likely strike plants from them. Keep them well watered, and cut the stem just below a ‘node’ – a ring around the stem. Cut the stem at a 45-degree angle, and keep them in water. When the flower dies back, cut it off… with any luck, after about 8 weeks, your ‘cutting’ should have started to send out roots…

Categories: The Herb Garden

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