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  • I have seen roses damasked, red and white...

    I have more than twenty varieties of roses in my garden. I love them. I love their scent and their colour, and I love the idea of them - that roses have been around longer than people have, and that we've been cultivating them and writing about them and loving them for most of human history.

    I particularly love my damask rose: Rosa Mundi

    It's the oldest of the old roses: the apothecary rose. By all accounts, it's been around since 1581. When I look at it in bloom, it contains all that history, all the stories.

    My aunt J had one in the garden of her cottage just outside of Cambridge. I love my aunt, more than I love my roses. She is a beautiful and elegant woman, with a sharp intelligence and a delightful streak of humour.

    When I visited her in 2001, she was waiting for me in the doorway of her cottage, holding a stem of Rosa Mundi, which she handed to me even before she hugged me. I had it in a vase in my room for the time I was there.

    Even then, J was beginning to disappear into her own inner world. Her attention would suddenly drift; she asked the same question over and over again. Once, we were looking for the bread for breakfast and I found it where she had put it, carefully, out in the garden. She gave me several of my uncle's books of poetry, because she wanted me to have them, then wrote to my mother in a panic because she thought someone had stolen them.

    She was elderly then, and when I said goodbye to her I thought it might be for the last time. It might as well have been.

    When I saw her again, in 2009, she was living in a care facility and didn't know me. Oh, she knew I was someone; she almost knew who I was. She said I had a nice face and thanked me politely for visiting. But she was living in her own happy past where she was newly married to my uncle (dead for 25 years) and where my mother (dead for 3 years) was "mooning around" over my father (dead for 15 years), not yet married. I wasn't even close to being born; it was in a way like being my own ghost.

    I felt that day as if I had lost both my mother and my aunt, and all the shared family memories, all over again.

    But I have a Rosa Mundi in my garden. It was still blooming when I returned to my garden in 2009, and seeing it then reminded me of that day when my aunt greeted me with a sprig of it. When I look at it now, every time it blooms, it holds all my history, all my stories.
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