Real Gardens

Aunt Rose’s Garden

On Washington's National Mall with Aunt Rose.

On Washington’s National Mall with Aunt Rose.

The sun rose along the Potomac River on Monday morning and swept across a canopy of bright fall colors. Quickly reaching the huge silver maple, along the fenced property line, then swung straight down the middle of Aunt Rose’s long, narrow Georgetown garden.


Nothing momentous had happened overnight. The elections weren’t until the next day. As the city came alive, the purple monkshoods looked as fresh in November as they would have a month earlier. Nothing could stop a blue Lobelia siphilitica, flowering surprisingly late in the season from a crack in the brick walk. The translucent, triangular seedpods of the hardy Begonia grandis were ripening.

Monkshood, Aconitum carmichaelii.

Monkshood, Aconitum carmichaelii.

Rose Blakely has lived and gardened in Georgetown for six decades. She worked for Republican senators on Capitol Hill for many years. Those were different times. There was more political give and take across the aisle between Republicans and Democrats. I suspect Aunt Rose was one of the first female chiefs of staff on Capitol Hill, though they didn’t call a female a chief of anything back then.

Lobelia siphilitica

Lobelia siphilitica

A good garden requires give and take. You need to nurture a place. It takes years to learn the nuances of soils and hidden roots. Ice storms and hurricanes can make a mess. There is no sure deal.

A garden is full of compromise.

A well-loved garden can’t exist without a patient and deliberate gardener.

Aunt Rose, who turned 89 in September, complained, as we all do, that her garden needed work.

Rose Cooper and Rose Blakely

Rose Cooper and Rose Blakely

I’ve been visiting Aunt Rose for 20 years since I married Rose Cooper, her beloved niece. I’ve never seen Aunt Rose’s garden look so beautiful. Besides heavy lifting and hard pruning, she does almost all of the work.

It’s hard to put my finger on what made her garden look so special last weekend. Though it was a gorgeous fall weekend, Aunt Rose’s garden always looks fresh and interesting. Toad lilies (Tricyrtis ‘Sinonome’) and pink anemones were flowering past their appointed time. The Himalayan sweetbox, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis, planted beside the long walk, has a few short months before its gloriously sweet-scented, late-winter blooms. A big clump of the sacred lily, Rohdea japonica (that I hadn’t seen here before), with its beautiful dark evergreen, strap-shaped leaves, was hidden in the back corner of the garden.

Sweet box, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis

Sweet box, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis.

Maybe the joy of our visit was a subconscious need for sanctuary.

I was let loose in Aunt Rose’s garden, set apart from the relentless election rancor.

There are few distracting thoughts in a quiet garden. The tempo slows.

My Rose raked leaves while I pruned a few branches that were hanging over the back steps. Aunt Rose went after a mischievous annual knotweed that had stayed hidden from her.

I picked some big fat, brown seedpods from an unidentified lily. I dug a piece of bears breeches (Acanthus sp.) and a few thick, thumbnail-sized roots of monkshood (Aconitum sp.) My hunch is the monkshood had been seeding around Aunt Rose’s garden for years.

I’ll plant these gifts today. I can’t think of anything that will make me happier this week than to resettle a piece of Aunt Rose’s garden in Kentucky.

Posted by on November 9, 2016 at 12:20 pm, in the category Real Gardens.
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3 responses to “Aunt Rose’s Garden”

  1. […] Aunt Rose’s Garden originally appeared on Garden Rant on November 9, 2016. […]

  2. Laura Munoz says:

    What a lovely post. Bet I’d love Aunt Rose’s garden.

  3. Marcia says:

    Very nice story and photos.

    “I’ve never seen Aunt Rose’s garden look so beautiful.”

    I think one reason the her garden is doing well (and I’m sure she uses a hose since we are down 4 inches in rainfall this year) is that the temps are high.
    Last month saw an average U.S. temperature of 57.7 degrees Fahrenheit, which was 3.6 degrees above the 20th century average, according to NOAA. The U.S. experienced its third-warmest October ever this year. Last month was the warmest October since 1963. As flowering plants do in the fall, with a change in light similar to Spring, one will see lots of blooms. My entire yard is in bloom today. And, starting January 20, an orange-crested dweeb will make sure we have ever longer seasons of bloom.