The name of the rose

We don’t really have a garden. Well, not in the English sense, anyway. No carefully weeded flower beds, no stripey, billiard-table lawn, no tidy, seedling-filled greenhouse. We do have quite a decent sized chunk of land, though – about half an acre, I think. It is rectangular and almost entirely covered by rough grass. Like a giant green picnic rug, it rolls down the gentle slope of the valley from the long side of the plot, along which runs the road into Montelupone. A single field planted either with wheat or with sunflowers hugs the other three sides and the grassy rug is pegged in place by a single line of thirty-eight olive trees that mark the outer perimeter, while a line of tall broadleaf evergreen hedge (Italian alder, we think) forms an inner perimeter, creating a three- or four-metre-wide shady grove around which are dotted a dozen or so different fruit trees.

The house stands roughly in the middle of the plot, end-on to the road, with all but the narrow strip of land containing the carport and the tall, domed well behind it while the remainder spreads out around the other three sides. The section on the short north side of the plot is where the old pigsty once stood so is still recovering from the demolition works Mr Blue-Shirt undertook two summers ago and is awaiting its next incarnation (as yet unknown). His massive woodstore along with a couple of small sheds cluster around the hedge-line in the far corner of the section on the long eastern side. This looks out over the olive trees straight down the valley to the tantalising triangle of sapphire blue sea at the bottom. In order not to obscure this heart-stopping view from the generous terrace that Mr Blue-Shirt built during lockdown and that extends right across that end of the house, it is now planted just with a cherry tree, a pomegranate tree and an extremely vigorous bay tree.

There once stood a large rose bush there too, though. A gnarled, prickly and unkempt old thing that had stood within a couple of metres of the doors at the eastern end of the house that open from the sitting room into the garden. Our predecessors had proclaimed it indestructible since it had withstood being trampled, squashed, hacked back and all but ripped out while they erected the two-storey extension to that end of the original house and so the place where it stood was never less than a muddy building site. But apparently no matter what indignity or injury it suffered at the hands of the builders and their equipment, back it would come, time and again throwing out vigorous new shoots from its arm-thick trunk. It was well over a metre tall and, despite its straggly-ness, had the girth of a small barrel when we first moved in. We soon became well acquainted with it as the only flat and level spot we could find to enjoy The View from our garden table and chairs was right alongside it. So for three summers we dined every evening watching the lights twinkling across the valley and breathing in the intoxicating scent of its flamboyant, vivid pink blossoms that perfumed the warm, still air. And we soon grew rather fond that elegant old lady who may have seen better days but who still knew how to put on the style. So we kept the weeds and bugs at bay, we kept her fed, and kept her looking neat and tidy. In fact, during those three summers we somehow came to admire the tenacity and resilience of that elderly grande dame: regardless of what hardships life threw at her, she remained bright, bold and utterly indomitable, and we found ourselves strangely uplifted by her defiant presence.

There was a problem, though. Her sturdy roots were firmly planted right in the middle of where we knew we wanted to build the terrace we had dreamed of since we had first viewed the house. We tried every which way to find a solution that would allow her to stay put, but after a string of compromised attempts to incorporate her into our designs, we finally accepted what we had probably known all along: there was simply no place for our vibrant, cheery friend in the new terrace.  The thing is, after all that she had survived and all that we admired in her, we couldn’t bear just to tear her out and feed her muscular limbs through the wood chipper. We would have to rescue her somehow, and that’s all there was to it. So when the time came to dig out the foundations for the terrace, we started by cutting her thorny limbs back to manageable proportions before carefully loosening the heavy clay soil compacted around her stout ankles. Then, alternating between the strength of the digger and the delicacy of a garden fork, we gradually managed to ease our precious friend from her long-term home without causing undue damage to her powerful roots which we wrapped in lots of damp sacking before tenderly laying her down in the cool shade on the northern side of the house while Mr Blue-Shirt got on with the terrace, and while we decided where her new home would be…

So that just leaves the south section of our plot. In English terms it would probably be called the front garden: it is here that the heavy sliding gate opens from the road onto a broad gravel driveway, and it is from here that the main entrance to the house is reached. Beyond the driveway stands a stately collection of mature conifers, a small rotund laurel bush, a neat little hibiscus tree, and a huge graceful willow tree that dominates the view from my study window. And sheltered by her proud guardians now grows a single rose bush, currently so modest that, unless she were pointed out, would probably go unnoticed. But that delicate little rose with its familiar bright pink blossoms is in fact the daughter of our gorgeous elderly grande dame – and she is quite ridiculously close to our hearts. So we have named her after the person whose spirit she so vividly embodies, and who is even closer to our hearts: my wonderful aunt Dorothy…

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