Personal Growth

Strong Roses

For most people, the rose carries significance because its many varieties provide combinations of color, texture and fragrance that have been associated with almost any human activity or emotion. Roses help celebrate love, marriage, birth, accomplishment…and offer encouragement or solace in times of recovery, hope, pain and loss. Their appearance in a bouquet, a vase, or in a garden can provide pause…creating a powerful emotional response.

I grow roses as a hobby. When I spend time in my garden I often wish people could see them as I do. I really see roses as a symbol, maybe even a metaphor, for approaching life.

I rarely look at the flower first. I might glance at the flower, to identify it, to note its color or shape, but I quickly look past the flower and scan the stems. The flower will wilt and lose its luster, but if the stems are strong and healthy a new flower will quickly emerge in place of the old, likely stronger and more colorful and more vibrant.

In the end, the delicate feel and beauty and fragrance of the rose is the result of a process that requires great strength, constant growth and never-ending renewal. The rose is a perennial plant. In theory and when properly nurtured it can live forever. It never truly stops growing, even when it seems to stop growing or appears dormant.

The most important part of the rose is deep in the ground, hidden from sight, a system of roots unique in nature. Because the rose is a perennial, it is constantly active, even when it appears dormant.  The root system itself is always growing and expanding, seeking nourishment for the plant and a base for its stems. More important, it is also constantly shedding off unwanted and unneeded shoots that potentially weaken the plant.

The roots themselves are the downward extension of the root ball, which sits just below the surface of the ground, sometimes partly visible, sometimes fully buried. The root ball is the collector of energy from the roots, passing the nutrients gathered from the earth into the stems, and directing it upward toward the sun, starting the process that will lead to the brilliant flower a few feet away.

Extending from the root ball are the base stems, usually 3-5 of them. These are the thicker stems that support the plant and spawn the stems that generate the actual flowers. These new stems reach upward for a period of time, the energy from the ground creating small breaks in the surface of the stems as the energy seeks warmth from the sun. Leaves in sets of three and five emerge from the strongest of these breaks, and then further toward the sun, new stems emerge from the strongest joints of leaf and stem.

When it’s ready, the stem stops growing upward and channels its strength into building a rose bud.  The bud first appears as a tiny knob at the end of the stem, a knob that steadily grows larger until the first streaks of color show through. Then, over 3-4 days, the green protective coat of the stem peels back and the bud opens slowly, layer by layer, until the full flower is visible in its beauty, its fragrance filling the air and affecting those around it.

What is usually unnoticed while the world admires the flower is that back down the stem, along one or more of the strongest joints of leaf and stem, the bud of the next stem has already appeared. While the flower exists in full bloom, this new stem is growing, preparing to replace the old, drawing the nutrients into it that spawned the old flower.

If left untended, the flower will dry out and fall apart, leaving a dark brown tip. Eventually, the rose will regenerate a new stem and repeat the cycle, doing what it must to survive. But, if the rose is cared for and nurtured, if the stem that supported the fading bloom is pruned properly, at the point where the new stem is just starting, the new stem will grow from the strongest possible point and each successive stem and flower becomes stronger than the last, allowing the plant to thrive.

To most observers, each flower is identical to the last. While true in the general sense of shape and color, each flower and stem is a unique creation, stronger or weaker, larger or smaller, more or less fragrant, another way the rose recreates and changes itself. The plant is never the same after it blooms, it never blooms exactly the same way twice, yet it is always stronger and better able to flourish with each successive bloom.

A healthy plant always has several blooms at various stages of opening, several stems growing and preparing a new bloom, and several stem buds that have found the strongest possible point from which to grow. Unseen, at ground level and below, the constant cycle of building the root system, the foundation of it all, goes on.

The rose is subject to attack by literally hundreds of threats, from insects to disease to harsh weather conditions, yet is incredibly resilient when damaged, and especially so when nurtured and cared for.

Should the rose be harmed, the rose can be cut back to the root ball, allowing the energy created in the root system to focus itself on the foundation stems, on healing the plant, on deeply renewing its very structure, on pouring all that energy into rebuilding and reinforcing the foundation before once again reaching toward the sun.  Sometimes cutting back is required just to let the rose rest and renew itself.

For me, the rose, and especially the plant that produces it, is an analogy for the person I want to be and the way I want to live. I want the world to see a variety of strong, healthy blooms at all times, each a unique expression of a talent or desire I possess, each reaching confidently skyward, each inviting others to join me and to embrace me.

I want to feel the strength of new growth; the confidence that as each flower enjoys its glorious moment of beauty and celebration another is growing right behind it, this one of the same core and roots, the same ingredients, similar to the old yet unique in its own way, and stronger and more vibrant than the flower before it.

The rose, like people, left unattended and unnourished, will grow; it will still have occasional flashes of brilliance and beauty though they will be less frequent and less powerful. But the plant will survive.

When trouble and hardship loom in life and the stem seems to falter, we can always prune ourselves back like the rose. We can shed the things that harm us or limit us, rebuilding our strength and our passion, knowing that our roots and foundation will sustain us until we are ready to grow and flourish again, this time even stronger and more complete than before. It may be time for you to do some of that pruning my friend.

For myself, I want to find and know the select few people who will be my gardeners. People who will know and nurture my core, who will help me prune the exterior flowers and branches to find my strongest places, and who, most importantly, know when and how to reach inside me and feed my roots, providing me the true foundation of constant renewal…acceptance and love.

3 replies »

  1. You have given me a new perspective on loss – on cutting away the harmful parts of life and beginning anew.

    Food for thought…..all the way to my roots.


  2. This has been, and will always be, one of my favorite pieces. Re-reading it reminds me what I am supposed to be looking for.

    It gives me the courage to maintain the search for my own gardeners as I cull the ones who don’t have the patience it takes to tend something relatively hardy, but susceptible to harm, before nurturing it into the beauty that has yet to come.

    Thank you, Michael.


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