Every year for three decades Bryan has picked me a rose for Valentine's Day and placed it in a bud vase on the table. This year a card sat there instead. There were no roses to pick.
Our spring and summers are usually filled with roses, beginning with the white and yellow banksias, both bushes covering about the area of a small European nation, growing out, up, then over the fence and wood shed as well as what used to be two juniper trees and a pittosporum but are now leafless props for the yellow banksia.
The rose year flows into Climbing Albertine's magnificence, then Dorothy Perkins, a late once-a-year bloomer growing through a crab apple, a bursaria and the chook shed, with Mutabilis, Climbing iceberg, Souvenir De la Malmaison, Buff Beauty and many others blooming at irregular intervals, including my favorite, Climbing Papa Meiland.
It's no accident that all of these are climbers, except for Mutabliis that grows so tall it is almost a climber, or at least looks like one after the wallabies have pruned off its lower branches. Swamp wallabies love roses as much as I do, but for dining, not adornment.
This year, though, we not only had all shrubs and climbers eaten as far up as the wallabies could reach, but every leaf and bud munched down as far as brushtail possums can climb. This left the rose bushes with possibly six leaves in a small ruff in the middle, and no blooms whatsoever.
It's been a tough year for wildlife. Much of the land around us has been burnt, and that was on top of drought. We maintained a food and water station, and didn't begrudge the animals any bit of greenery they could find. Thankfully most of the roses seem to be leafing copiously now it's rained, and Possum X has chased the horde of possums seeking refuge back to whatever trees they came from.
I was surprised how tolerant the local wildlife were of the newcomers. Even Wild Whiskers, wombat supreme, stepped back to allow the little fire wombat to eat, her fur charred. The first night here she dropped, exhausted, about 100 meters from the water station. She was able to drink when I put a dish of water next to her, and then to eat, and by the next day she could walk a little.
But as soon as the grass grew to five centimeters Wild Whiskers began snarling at anyone four legged or two legged who walked or hopped within 10 metres of her territory, and Possum X resumed his rightful kingdom of the dining room ceiling, the loquat trees and all the roses he feels like nibbling after he's eaten the leaves and fruit from the Jonathon apple trees.
So finally we have roses again. The first to bloom was Parson's Monthly, an old variety that blooms profusely in spring then now and then once a month or so for most of summer and autumn. Parson's Monthly seemed to regret her failure to appear in spring, so her flowers arrived the day after Valentine's Day, and before her leaves had enough chance to form either, an almost bare rose skeleton with fat pink blooms.
My advice on roses? Plant rambling roses. They survive. The more vigorous a rose is, the bigger the roots it will put down. The bigger the roots, the better chance the bush has of surviving drought, heat, wind and complete neglect, except by the possums and wallabies.
The next bit of advice is to let the roses ramble through your trees. The flowers won't bloom till they reach the top, but then you'll have a ''twofer'': tree and roses. The tree will act as a trellis to keep the rose from wallaby reach, and roses growing through your plum or apple trees may disguise them from the parrots and fruit bats and other gourmet wildlife.
And don't worry. Regard drought, frost and blazing heat as a free garden advisory service. If a plant dies it wasn't suitable for your garden. Have a look around your neighborhood to see what has not just survived but thrived; take a quick photo, then head to the garden centre and say, ''I want six of these, please.''
If you want a garden that always looks green, well-trimmed and full of flowers, decorate it with artificial lawn, and fake shrubs and flowers, or watch gardening shows on television and keep your curtains drawn. I love the changes in the garden, even when that includes the grasses turning brown or temporarily vanishing. Today's lushness would not be so glorious if we hadn't had a year of brown. We take the annual half-acre of banksia roses almost for granted, but I was so excited by our first rose of summer that I ran to tell Bryan.
A gardener's life is full of treasures, as well as snails and possums. And, just now, full of the glory of a few roses too.
This week I am:
- Wondering if Bryan might be persuaded to mow just a bit of lawn, or rather the weeds that are popping up in what used to be various grasses and is beginning to look like a lawn again. If we decapitate the weeds now, the grasses will quickly take their territory, and the wildlife will keep the ''lawn'' trimmed.
- Planting parsley, spring onions, and more parsley, hopefully enough to see us through the winter
- Watching the Earilblaze apples swell, and hoping we may get a crop by winter.
- Suddenly remembering I put a potted fig tree on the window sill to keep it from wallaby reach, and it is time to plant it out.
- Informing the wildlife that their dinner will continue to be slightly supplemented until the last bag of crunchies is empty, but after that they will be expected to have resumed their normal diet.
- Hoping the ginger lilies that are sending forth new leaves from what looked like a totally bare bank a fortnight ago might decide they have time to bloom before winter. The scent of a bank of ginger lilies is paradise.