Monday, May 11, 2009

Pigs fly in the spring

This is our flying pig wind vane seen from the garden where the rambling rose "Darlow's Enigma" blooms beneath the shade structure. This is a magnificent rose, with clusters of fragrant white single blossoms that bloom all summer and into the fall. It's a musk rose of unknown origin. When in full bloom, like it is now, the scent fills the entire garden.

"Darlow's Enigma" was introduced by plantsman Michael Darlow in 1993, and is familiar to serious rosarians. It is available from a select group of nurseries - they are all fine mail-order nurseries, so its exclusivity is based only on its lack of publicity, not its price.

I actually met Michael Darlow, around that time. I lived in Seattle, which was a wonderful place to learn to be a gardener. The climate was similar to that of Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville-West's garden in Kent, England - and so perfect for growing flowers that it had attracted a formidable group of horticulturalists, who joined neighborhood garden clubs. The market for quality plants was so strong that even neighborhood grocery stores displayed flats of perennials endorsed by Gertrude Jekyll, Penelope Hobhouse, or Pamela Harper. It was not unusual for neighbors to trade divisions across the fence of French named varieties of primulas or Himalyan blue poppies.

So, one pleasant spring, I noticed an entry in my King County Yellow Pages of a nursery called "The Old Rose Garden" in Bothell, a small town north of Lake Washington, and drove out there. There was a parking lot, a wood-frame building and a house; rows of plants in pots with staked labels. Beyond was a garden you had to pay to visit. The proprietor was a man a few years older than me, curly dark hair, with a mannered tone of speech and the wildeyed look of an obsessive hobbyist. I browsed the rows of plants, noting with approval the varieties of old roses. Another customer was there, and I overheard her ask whether he carried any roses like "Tiffany" or "Chrysler Imperial."

He drew himself up, and with a contempt that was palpable, informed her that if she wanted Hybrid Tea roses such as those, she should take herself to Molbaks or Home Depot. I hid a smile hearing this. He was such a prig, and his nursery was actually kind of messy, but he had a passion I had to admire.

I ended up introducing myself, talking with him, and buying some plants - I forget which, now. I remember being both intrigued with his expertise, and fearful I wouldn't meet his standards as a serious gardener. I couldn't help but be amused by his priggish ways. He was a difficult person, snobbish and easily offended. A few months later, when I drove out to Bothell again, I found his place deserted and closed. I always wondered what had happened to him.

But now I see this rose named for him in nurseries. And it is a special, wonderful rose. It's trouble-free, it has beautiful flowers, and a heavenly scent. It's a treasure. If you have a rose garden, you should get this rose.

I always remember my encounter with him when it blooms in my garden. I think that people who have a passion - even those who are difficult - should be celebrated for what they give us.

You can find "Darlow's Enigma" at nurseries like Heronswood, Rogue Valley Roses, and Heirloom Roses.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if my mother ever visited his nursery; she has lived in that general area since 1971. She loves roses and I know she would have loved his garden. Perhaps I will order her a "Darlow's Enigma" next year!

(Although I know she does like going to Molbaks, so perhaps she was the one who was frightened off!)

KBeau said...

Wish I could do roses. I can't even do Knock Out roses because the deer love them, thorns and all.

KBeau said...

One more thing. I certainly should have commented on your pig weathervane. Wish I had a good spot for one.

Gary Rith Pottery Blog said...

Forget the roses, what a PIG!

mo.stoneskin said...

I'm a big fan of obsessive hobbyists.

Anonymous said...

I just read your header photo explanation. Having grown up in the Seattle area, I thought all Scotch Broom was yellow!

*I knew Gary would comment on the flying pig. ;)

Margaret said...

Love the pig. What I like about roses in general is that they seem to be so sturdy. I do not have a green thumb, but my roses seem to thrive anyway.

Briget said...

Sweetie! The roses are beautiful, and interesting, but - TEH PIG!!! The Flying Pig! You imported a little bit of Cincy to your gorgeous California garden...awwwww!