Saturday, February 11, 2017

Roses and Thorns (and Ice Cream)

            Okay, so let’s walk out the back door of the kitchen into the backyard.  As we leave the house, there is a little rickety porch with rickety stairs leading down to the driveway.  The porch used to be enclosed, but some of the windows blew out in a storm and shattered.  And when it rains, the water drips right through the porch ceiling, so it is bowing and bending and ready to fall in at some point.  And yet, we can’t do anything about it right now because we already have other necessary repairs that we don’t have the money to fix.  But let’s forget about the porch as we carefully step down the rotting stairs, being careful not to wiggle the railing too much because that’s barely holding on, too.

            As we step down onto the driveway, the first thing you might notice is the smell of mint.  I did a big no-no, and I planted some mint (chocolate mint - the best kind of peppermint) in the ground, to the left of the porch as you walk down.  Mint is a known bully.  It will spread like the flu.  So I had to be careful to make sure that I contained it as much as possible.  And so it’s wedged between the porch, the driveway, and an area where we laid down landscape fabric and rocks to keep the garbage cans on.  So there isn’t much room for it to spread.  But every year, I still have to keep an eye on it and tear up any stray roots that manage to find their way out. 

(There is some plain peppermint in here, too.  The light-colored one.)

            The thing is, I don’t even really use the mint for anything but homemade Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream.  And my husband uses it for mint tea.  (But I don’t like mint tea.  Drinking hot liquid-mint feels too weird.  But maybe floating a few leaves in hot chocolate would be nice.)  But it’s just something that I love having.  I love the smell.  And so I am willing to deal with the plant possibly spreading.  Besides, our yard is full of useless Creeping Charlie; so if anything is going to spread, I’d rather it smell good at least.  (FYI, chocolate mint doesn’t taste like chocolate.  Just really strong peppermint.  It gets the chocolate name from the purple-brownish stems.)

            At the bottom of the porch, you’d turn left to go to the backyard.  But straight ahead and to the right, up against the house, is a patch of roses.  I love coming straight out of the house and smelling roses first thing.  These are my old-fashioned shrubs, the kind that can spread if you’re not careful.  So I put them between the house and driveway so that they have nowhere to spread to. 

            And even then, my Therese Bugnet - a light-pink beauty that smells like a rose should -  will reach out wide and throw her long, graceful stems everywhere, spilling out onto the driveway, grabbing any passersby she can with her vicious thorns.  She gets to be about 8 feet tall every year, even though I cut her back to about 3 feet.  But every year, I love her more and more.  She’s a hardy one that shakes off our mean winters and seems stronger for it.

            Right next to her is Blanc Double de Coubert (a more well-behaved rose with white flowers and a lemon-rose-soap scent) and Rose de Rescht (a deep crimsony-red one, jam-packed with tiny petals).  I’m sure I did another no-no by cramming them too closely together, but I wanted them to mingle and intertwine and fill that corner with color and fragrance.  (We’ll see if I live to regret it!) 

Therese Bugnet (pink) on the left, Blanc (white) on the right
This is before adding the Rose de Rescht
Close-up of Blanc blossom

            [Update: Five years after planting Therese Bugnet, I had to dig up a bunch of shoots that sprouted up ten feet from the plant (by the base of the stairs).  I gave them to my neighbor to replant last fall – after warning her that it might spread like crazy in five years – and it seems to have transplanted well.  We’ll see in a couple months if it made it through the winter or not.] 

            These roses are old standbys.  They’re not like the cut roses you’d buy by the dozen in the stores.  They are more delicate looking, more sloppy looking.  And they bloom sporadically in flushes throughout the year.  But they have a charm that the stiffer-looking, perfectly-sculpted roses can’t compete with.  And they have such a nice scent.  (But, oh, are those thorns mean!)

            This rose corner is in honor of my wonderful, 97-year old grandmother.  I didn’t get to meet my grandparents till I was 15.  And since then, we’ve been able to see them only about once a year because they’re 6 hours away in the bluffs of Iowa.  My grandfather died a couple years ago at 100 years of age.  They were married for about 75-ish years.  (I can’t remember the exact number.) 

            They are two of my favorite people in the world, ones that I wish I could have known better.  I wish I could have learned about her life and about life in general over a plate of chocolate chip cookies at her kitchen table every weekend.  I wish I could have spent holidays with them.  I wish I had grown up really feeling like part of that family.  But I had to cherish them from a distance, due to my parents’ divorce and the 6-hour space between our homes.

            Anyway, in the front of her house, she has three unidentified rose bushes.  A pink one, a white one, and a red one.  And one of my biggest dreams was to be able to take some cuttings of those roses to plant in my own garden.  Not because I wanted the roses, but because I wanted a permanent, beautiful tribute to her in my yard.  I wanted to be able to say, “See those roses.  They belonged to my grandma.”  But I never could get the cuttings to root.  (But I do have her rhubarb.  Love it!)  So this is my recreation of her rose garden: a pink one, a white one, and a red (-ish) one.  And it’s there in honor of her.     

            A little farther down past this corner used to be three more roses: Country Dancer, Carefree Beauty, and a climber called Dream Weaver that was attached to a trellis at the back corner of the house.  Dream Weaver is a pleasant-smelling rose with salmony-pink blossoms.  Country Dancer and Carefree Beauty are still babies, so I’ll have to see how they turn out.  But these roses were languishing in the shadier corner, so I moved them to different spots in the yard.  And they seem to have transplanted okay, but it has slowed their growth down a little.

This is Dream Weaver, before I moved her.  I hope she comes back okay.

            After moving the roses, I put in a couple peonies and hydrangea shrubs.  I am hoping that these do better with the shade. 

            There’s also a lilac nestled in among these roses and a ton of spring-flowering bulbs – grape hyacinths, Dutch hyacinths, Siberian squill, and daffodils.  (I gave up on tulips because the deer will eat every one of them overnight.)  This way I can have a lot of spring color and fragrance before the roses bloom.  (I love grape hyacinths.  So dainty and wonderful smelling.)   

            I carefully researched and chose every rose on my property.  I wanted ones that could easily survive our winters, that required minimum care, that smelled good, that bloomed throughout the season, and that added a somewhat cottage-y, old-fashioned look to the yard.  I don’t care much that these old-fashioned roses cannot survive well as cut flowers (I have other flowers to use for that).  I just love that they provide a long flowering season with minimal effort and with no chemicals.  (I refuse to use chemicals in my yard, if at all possible.)                                   

            These kinds of roses remind me of me.  I’m not a manicured, polished kind of person.  I’m a relaxed, cottage-y kind of person.  I like things a little loose and carefree.  Maybe it’s because my life feels anything but loose and carefree.  Maybe it’s actually more like I wish I were relaxed and carefree.  Because honestly, I’m always too uptight, reaching for some phantom standard that I can never reach.  I guess I admire that these roses are strong but casual.  Tough survivors with a graceful delicateness.  Feminine with a core of steel.

            But in taking care of these beauties, I’ve gotten my fair share of cuts.  When I trim the shrubs back or tie up my climbers, I always come away with scratches up and down my arms.  I’ve pricked my fingers more than once and drew blood. 

            But if we want the beauty of a rose, we have to accept and live with the thorns.

            Some people are so afraid of thorns that they don’t want to plant roses.  They deprive themselves of the joys because they’re afraid of the pains.  They miss the blessings because all they can think about are the bad things.  And I think that’s sad. 

            The thing is, life is always going to be full of thorns.  Illnesses, job losses, house problems, interpersonal conflicts, obstacles, trials, temptations, fears, doubts, loneliness, etc.  And we can spend our days grumbling about every scratch we get . . . or we can start looking for the blessings.  We can stay back in fear . . . or we can reach out and grab ahold of life anyway.  And when nothing is blooming, we can despair and wallow in misery . . . or we can wait patiently, knowing that a thorny stem eventually produces a beautiful rose. 

            In life, as it is with my old-fashioned shrubs, there are always going to be more thorns than roses.  But the point is, there will always be roses.  There will always be buds.  Maybe not an abundance or anything, but sporadic flushes of them or just a couple, here and there.  Flowers and buds mixed together among the thorns. 

            And if I want to get the most out of them, I have to notice when a bud finally opens.  I need to stop what I am doing, get close, and linger over the rose.  I need to snuzzle my nose down into one and inhale deep the intoxicating smell.  That’s what makes these otherwise unattractive, thorny, greedy plants valuable.  Take the time to admire the flowers!  Get close enough to enjoy all the blessings!  And every chance you get, stop and smell a rose!                     


My Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Recipe:
(Requires an Ice Cream Maker.  Before starting, chill the bowl and lid in the freezer that you are going to store the finished ice cream in.)
            In a pot on the stove, gently warm 4 cups of the cream of your choice, 1 cup sugar and a pinch of salt until the sugar is melted.  (Do not boil.)
            (I use 2 cups half-and-half and 2 cups heavy whipping cream, because 4 cups heavy cream is too rich but 4 cups half-and-half is too light and icy.)
            Turn off heat and add a couple generous handfuls of peppermint leaves (rinsed and pat dried).  I add enough mint so that the cream is packed with it but so that it’s also still submerged.  Cover and let it sit 1 hour.   
            Pour through a strainer to get the leaves out and press lightly on the leaves to squeeze more cream out.  Add a dash of vanilla to the cream, if desired.  Chill in the fridge.  Then church in an ice cream maker according to directions.
            During the last minute of churning, pour in 1 cup of mini chocolate chips or chocolate shavings or chocolate chips that have been chopped up in a food processor.  Spoon into chilled bowl and return to freezer for an hour or more to let it firm up. 
            So refreshing on a hot summer day!

            [That is also my basic Vanilla ice cream recipe, if you take out the mint leaves and chocolate chips.  4 cups cream, 1 cup sugar, dash salt, and vanilla.  You can mix this up a ton of different ways. 

            Cookies and Cream:  Just churn the vanilla ice cream and then add crushed cookies at the end. 

            Chocolate Peanut Butter:  Just add ½ cup cocoa powder to the liquid mixture (whisk well to incorporate), churn it, and then drizzle in 1 cup of peanut butter as you transfer it to the chilled bowl. 

            Orange Sherbet:  Exchange half the cream for orange juice, if I remember correctly. 

            Fruit and Cream:  Just add a bunch of whatever berries you want (mashed a bit) to the plain vanilla ice cream, before or after churning depending on your preference, to make a fruity ice cream.  (Or add a cup of “Our Favorite Low-Sugar Strawberry Freezer Jam” before churning.  That post is from a few days ago.)  I also once added about a cup of cooked-down, pureed, sweetened strawberries and rhubarb.  It was a wonderfully sweet-tart-creamy taste.  

            I love my ice cream maker!  It was a Mother’s Day gift that has served us well.]


(This is a repost from my other blog,  With some changes.)

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