Rose bush by a window

When a Stranger Made a Promise of a Hundred Roses Every Winter + Derek Jarman on Gardening

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Have you ever been promised something by a total stranger? Something unexpected. You don’t call it a necessity but your heart knows, it is. An appearance. A smile. A gesture. A blessing. The unspoken promise of receiving it at an implicit time is your treasure. In this situation, you are curious as to who that stranger is, but only for a while. Then it stops to matter. Better yet, it adds to the preciousness of the gift you receive.

This happened exactly one year ago. At the peak of the winter, I moved to this new place. My new home was decades old and surrounded by trees – one in the front, two on a side and about ten various sized ones in the backyard. All leafless.

The trees had bared themselves down to each and every, small and big, twisted and straight detail of their barks and branches. This almost elemental level of acquaintances with trees  was soulful, but my limitation of being able to identify trees only by their leaves meant that I could only imagine what each of these deciduous trees would turn out to be, come spring. These living sculptures could become anything, the possibilities were infinite. But there were no promises. And starting a fresh chapter of life at a new place, secretly, I was longing for one.

However, walking around the house, I had missed to notice something, which became more obviously visible once I went inside and opened the front window.  Standing quite intimately beside the window, silently waiting for me to discover it, was – an eight feet tall, four feet wide bush with leathery, shiny, rich green leaves and countless buds ready to open within days. That plant was carrying a sound promise – of hundreds of blushing, pastel pink roses on their way – at the coldest time of the year.

Sure enough, by the time it was mid February, the rosebush bloomed into a living dream – a matter of envy for the passerby. For me however, it was hard to take pride in it. I had not planted this rosebush, watered it, mulched it or took care of it in any way before. To me, it was a matter of sheer gratitude. A stranger whom I will never know, planted it years ago and unknowingly decided to gift it to me as soon as I would walk inside my new home – as a promise of a hundred roses every winter.

Derek Jarman (January 31, 1942–February 19, 1994) was a famous English filmmaker and is remembered for his Prospect Cottage  – a seaside retreat in England, where during last years of his life he fondly imagined, created and tended a peculiar and delightful garden, on almost desert-like terrain, in the shadow of a nuclear power station. In his daily journal entries about his life at this cottage, published as “Modern Nature“, he writes:

The gardener digs in another time, without past or future, beginning or end.


Here is the Amen beyond the prayer.

A hobby, aesthetic sense, or love for roses would have driven someone to plant it, or simply a profession made it happen if it was the work of a landscaper – whatever made these bounty of roses by my window a reality, one thing is certain – that gardener unknown to me, entered this “another time” Jarmon talks about, used his/her two beautiful human hands to invoke nature’s might from the soil and this magically generous rosebush manifested itself to me.

But whose two hands? I don’t know the answer to that and perhaps might never do…yet, a strange, liberating reassurance stems from this not-knowing. An infinite hope, a sense of security hard to explain.

This intriguing life standing at the window. It’s a stranger too. Winter Roses? Hybrid Tea Roses? English Roses? Floribunda? What kind is it?

I have already done it a couple of times by now – going though online rose databases, trying to match its characteristic with various rose species. Nothing matches with my stranger. I am thankful for this anonymity though. It helps me in actually looking at these blessings of  roses – without any frivolous label obscuring my view, with an infinite hope, and a sense of security hard to explain.

Images & Article ©2022 Gyaneshwari Dave


From Modern Nature (Vintage, 1992)

Copyright ©1991 by Derek Jarman

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