What does the word ‘mermaid’ suggest to you? Andersen and Disney sweet young girl, giving herself to the man she loves? Or else the seal-women of Scotland, or the sirens of Greek legend, luring unloved men to their deaths?
The Mermaid rose is s beautiful as any of those, but has more in common with the sirens. Get too close to her and you won’t escape easily from her sharp, backward-facing thorns. But she’s lovely enough, if handled with leather gloves. She’ll grow 4m plus high and those buds will open to creamy yellow single flowers. The deep red berberis leaves set her off well.
On Christmas morning there were a few blooms on the Mermaid rose by the front door, so one was brought inside to open fully in front of Mrs Turnstone’s place.
The winter so far has not given more than two frosts, neither sharp enough to kill Mermaid’s flowers, nor those of Thomas Becket. One of them can come inside on Saturday, the day he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral.
And, as our parish priest would insist, it’s not too late to wish you a Merry Christmas!
In Saint Mildred’s churchyard in Canterbury, across from the L’Arche garden, there is a solitary standard rose; it was looking quite shabby with suckers at the base and lots of blackspot on the leaves. Beside it is a plaque telling that it was planted in memory of Elizabeth Hover, who was married in this church in 1948 and died in Australia.
One day this spring I could bear it no longer and pruned the flowering stems hard, removed the suckers and sprayed for blackspot.
There have been three flushes of flowers since then. I was pleased about that. But one Friday I heard more. Elizabeth’s husband Albert had paid for the rose from Australia. When he came back to visit Canterbury after her death, he met one of the ladies who now run the coffee mornings where L’Arche are regular customers, including Abel when he’s around.
She knew the returning native straight away. ‘I said, “You’re Albert Hover that went to Australia.”‘ His wife had the most beautiful golden hair, she reminded him, not auburn but pure gold. ‘Well, after that he kept in touch though now he’s 91. He was only on the phone yesterday, asking, “How’s Elizabeth’s rose?” Now I can tell him. Thank you for taking it on. ‘
So there we are. You don’t know what ripples may come from a random act of something like kindness; and often enough you may never know. But it was worth pruning the rose for its own sake. Laudato si!
A version of this post appears on Agnellusmirror.wordpress.com