My friend Cindy is exploring our country on a month-long solo car trip.
Her exodus has sparked my own wanderlust, or should I say jealousy? Since she left two weeks ago and began posting from the road, I’ve felt unnaturally constrained and restless. I love a good road trip, so my summer suddenly feels boring and ordinary, at least when stacked up against Cindy’s.
There’s been a trip to the Cape, and an occasional excursion to Boston and New York City, but it’s been pretty ho-hum. The biggest excitement around here is I finally got around to reseeding the lawn.
One of my problems is I still have a teen-ager who doesn’t drive, and I’ve been tied up all summer schlepping her to work and cross country practice. This is only slightly better than the summer my son made All-Star Little League, and I couldn’t leave the state due to mandatory practices every night. I was probably the only parent who was happy when his team lost, but it meant freedom and a long overdue family vacation.
I got a reprieve from driving this week when my daughter and her teammates went to running camp in Rhode Island. That means for five days, I’m free.
Having days without kids is like receiving a gift certificate to a favorite store. You don’t want to waste it, so you roam around struggling to figure out how to best use it. A stretch without kids is the same thing: you want to maximize your free time, doing things that are impossible when you’re on their schedule.
But often, you have trouble coming up with something to do. The first thing I did after my daughter left was wash and dry two loads of the Curmudgeon’s dress shirts, and put them on hangers. He was so impressed he suggested I get a job at the local dry cleaner.
But something inside me craved adventure, or more accurately, a change of scenery. The summer swelter can be so unbearable that I needed to be reminded how beautiful this season is. Mostly, I needed a break from my routine, a day to get out and smell the roses.
Elizabeth Park, home of the country’s oldest rose garden, fit the bill. It has roses, thousands of them, blooming from June to October. Best of all, it required a 45-minute road trip to Hartford, enough time to hit the highway, blast some music and give me the sense of escape I was craving.
My sister, who’s president of her garden club, cautioned that mid-June is the prime time to visit because the rose aches are in full bloom. My biggest regret is that the arches, shown above in all their glory, were not in bloom. But I had to take what I could get and not stand on ceremony. The chances of me getting up to Hartford in mid-June are slim to none.
I arrived and the first thing I did was get as far away as possible from a young couple with a baby. I love children, but something about the sprawling park demanded silence, almost reverence. The last thing I wanted to hear was a crying baby or babbling parents.
The park had few visitors, allowing me to roam freely and train my lens on the roses as I milled around. Most striking is the vast variety of colors and sizes of roses, which range from delicate white climbers to hardy crimson beach roses.
In between are a rainbow of colors, from sprays of tiny red roses to mauve and coral beauties resembling carnations. As I moved along the beds, I noted that a lot of the roses need to be dead-headed, and many of the beds need weeding. My heart went out to the full-time gardeners who maintain the roses – anyone who’s raised roses will attest they’re the most labor-intensive and demanding plants on the planet.
And I had little trouble believing that the roses are tended to every day. With 15,000 rose bushes and 800 varieties of old and new roses in the garden, it’s easy to understand why so much maintenance is required. The park needs to raise $100,000 each year just to cover fertilizer, mulch and replacement bushes.
I had gorgeous blaze roses – big red climbers that bloomed and spilled over my stockade fence – every Memorial Day at my old house and have raised a few roses in my day. But I bid goodbye to them when I moved to the woods, and was assured by a neighbor that the deer would feast on them. (This neighbor has since questioned every gardening decision I’ve ever made.)
I got by with a few beach roses, which the deer don’t eat, and managed to survive. But this year when re-landscaping the front yard, I decided to live dangerously and plant two roses bushes outside my front door. The bushes produce delicate pink roses, and quite honestly, I’m not sure how I survived so long without roses in my yard.
My maternal grandmother tended roses in her tiny backyard in Bayside, N.Y., and I vividly recall a white lattice arbor covered in roses, though my mother assures me it belonged to the next door neighbor. My most vivid memory of a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, VA., when I was about 9 is white arbors cloaked in roses in a formal rose garden.
I was captivated by the roses on that trip, though I know that wasn’t the point of it. Still, I think there is no greater gift to humanity than a well-tended rose garden, which brings beauty and joy to all who see it. Show me a rose gardener and I’ll show you someone with a big heart. There is no other explanation for the time, money and labor involved in maintaining roses.
I’m not sure why the rose is so captivating, but perhaps it has something to do with its delicate petals guarded by thorny stems, and the fact that it’s one of the most fragrant flowers in the garden. That doesn’t mean that all roses are fragrant – I was very disappointed when I sniffed a few varieties and they had no scent – but most of the roses has a delicate intoxicating aroma.
I didn’t stay long at the park – it was nearly 90 degrees and I began to feel trickles of sweat down my back – but that’s the beauty of a solo excursion. You can pull the plug when you want, not having to make excuses or apologize to anyone.
Best of all, you can hop into your car, blast the air conditioning and take the long way home, happy that you made your escape and no one even noticed you were gone.