I was in college and living in a house I had just bought…for $17,000. It was in the old, run-down part of town– it was an old, run-down kind of house. But it was mine. I had been charmed by its 1920s brass door handles and grandmotherly smell, but what I was really excited by were the rosebushes out front. Crazy rose vines with gnarled old trunks clenched like fists around the wild tangle of canes that climbed wildly up and around the chain link fence.
My grandmother loved roses and had tended to them lovingly. I, on the other hand, grew vegetables and merely admired gardeners who grew flowers. But now I was going to be one of them! The only problem was, all I knew about roses was that I wanted to make mine happy. I asked around for advice until a friend gave me a book about roses he had inherited from his grandmother.
Spring was coming, and so I grabbed a pair of sharp pruners and went outside, armed with the knowledge I had learned from this book. These were hybrid tea roses, and I was supposed to cut any cane that was thinner than a pencil. You look for a growth node and cut right above it. When I began, I cut canes half as thick as a pencil. Anything more aggressive seemed mercenary.
As the minutes turned to hours, my cutting went from delicate and cautious to daring and brutal. The reality of what I was doing and why rattled around my head:
You cut the unnecessary, the weak, and the dead away. Cuts are made just above a growth node, a little bump on the stem that is a sign of potential growth. Everything that is removed needs to go so that the rosebush can use its energy to grow healthy, new growth, and to make blooms. The cutting is not a cruelty, but a kindness that is done to help the rosebush thrive.
I thought about how universal this philosophy seemed. The parallel with our own self-limiting beliefs and behaviors. The friendships we keep because we’ve had them “forever,” even if they aren’t particularly good for us anymore. The jobs we hate but stay in because we are afraid to leave. The many bits of baggage we carry around from place to place, year to year that weighs us down. If only we cut away the parts of our lives that no longer served us– how might we bloom?
When I was finished, I felt like a butcher. The rosebushes looked stunted and were a fraction of the size they had been. But as the weeks passed and spring unfolded, I was rewarded with phenomenal growth in my front yard. The roses climbed over the fence and budded profusely, eventually exploding into a riot of blooms more fragrant and beautiful than I had imagined possible. The wisdom of this exercise sank in, and I took it to heart, applying it to my life and my roses each year. It has not disappointed me yet, and I still feel gratitude each spring as I cut back my unruly roses.
Francesca Singer is a former farmer, landscape architect, and massage therapist who splits her time between Texas and rural France. When not writing or wrangling a toddler, she can be found hiking or working in the garden.