This week has been manic. It looks like the vast majority of my work will remain at home for the foreseeable future. Our service is adjusting to remote working, but it has its challenges. As we prepare for schools partially opening, we are trying to work out what this means for our service and the children we support.
I am thankful for moments of quiet. In between meetings, I open the window, and breathe.
I press pause.
The David Austin English rose ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’ helps me in this. She sits outside the window in front of my desk.
These three blooms have been capturing my attention when I look away from my computer screen. They are like three wise women.
As the week has gone on, the first two or three blooms have been joined by more. I can see blooms in all their stages of maturity, from tight little bud to full-blown bloom.
In bud, you get a hint of the beauty to come. The petals are slightly ruffled at the edges. They turn back a little, as they start to unfold. Deep inside the bud, there is mystery. How are all those petals folded inside, so close?
I have been consciously practising my breath awareness. I extend my out-breath, because this tells my nervous system to relax. It shifts gear from ‘fight or flight’ into ‘rest and digest’.
You can try this for a moment. Breathe in for a count of 4, and out for a count of 6.
(You can find a pace that works for you. So long as you extend the out-breath).
Try this for a minute or two. How do you feel?
By practising extending the out-breath, I have become aware of the capacity of my lungs. There is always a little more to relax, to empty out. My body follows. Muscles can let go a little more.
‘Princess Alexandra’s petals remind me of this. She is only partially unfurled in this photo. The inner petals are still quite tightly coiled, and the outer petals can reflex and turn back further and further. She will exhale, relax… exhale further, relax more.
The inner petals make a beautiful pattern. They are mingled, but there is a swirl, radiating outwards from the centre. It is like the opposite of a black hole. Beauty, bounty, spreading outwards.
Each bloom is beautiful from every angle. The petals take up their own space, without encroaching on one another.
You can see here how the inner petals still have a springy bounce, whilst the outer petals have relaxed backwards. This rose shows us how to throw back its shoulders, and open its chest to the day.
The petals have a soft nap, like the most delicate velvet, or aged silk. The texture becomes even softer, impossibly soft, in the warmth of the sun. It is like the whole bloom sighs, and relaxes even more.
The blooms of ‘Princess Alexandra’ are enormous. If I cupped one in my hand, it would be wider than the spread of my five fingers.
There are downsides to this rose. Its growth habit is not the most beautiful. It is rather upright, and not so leafy or rounded as many other English roses. The solution is to interplant it with geraniums and poppies, which hide its ugly ankles.
I am enjoying this poppy, variety unknown, though it may be ‘Mrs Perry’. It was growing near the compost heap when we moved here. I have since split it several times and moved it here to the rose garden, where it complements the pinks and peaches of roses and peonies.
Oriental poppies transplant easily. You can dig them up and divide them after flowering. I would always recommend you cut the foliage back to the ground after flowering because the plant goes very scruffy. By cutting it right back, it will produce fresh foliage for the rest of the summer. Sometimes it might even flower again in late summer.
Bees love poppies. Poppies are rarely without a bee for company, smooshing its tummy against all the ticklish stamens.
You can see how well the poppy gets on with ‘Princess Alexandra’ here. They are sharing a moment. I like the poppies neat pleats against the rose’s soft silk. You can see the ticklish stamens in the poppies. No wonder the bees are so happy.
I do not find ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’ to be the most fragrant of English roses. I have it planted next to the heady rugosa hybrid ‘Hansa’. ‘Hansa’ has a powerful, intoxicating scent. It is old rose, with deep, musky depths.
If I am going to breathe in the scent of ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’, I will resist the urge to smell ‘Hansa’ first. If I sniff ‘Hansa’ it is like my smell receptors have been saturated by Hansa’s deliciousness. Instead, I breathe in ‘Princess Alexandra’ first.
There is an art to rose-breathing. You have to exhale fully first. Then bury your nose in the bloom. The rose has thoughtfully created a space for your nose in the centre of the bloom. It is as if nose and rose were made for one another. Breathe in slowly and deeply. Keep going. You will notice different scents at different stages of the inhale.
You might get old rose, tea rose, musk, damask. Depending on the rose, there are any number of fruit scents: lemon, blackcurrant, damson, pear, apple. Many roses, especially rugosa roses, have sweet spice scents of aniseed and cloves.
Then exhale. Exhale like ‘Princess Alexandra, and just enjoy the moment.
That is what the garden teaches me.
Pause for breath.
Pause for thought.
Pause for a moment.
Pause: a temporary stop in action or speech.
Pause: a period of silence between musical notes.
Pause: an opportunity for reflection.
Pause: a reminder not to react.
Pause: a space, a gap, an opportunity, a luxury, a need.
This week is one of my favourites of the year. It is the week the roses reach their zenith.
It can feel as though it is all moving too fast. The poppies, the peonies, the roses, all getting more and more beautiful by the day.
I struggle to capture it all for my blog.
But maybe I just need to pause.
I don’t need to capture everything.
Just this moment, this opportunity to pause.
If you want to make more time for pausing, you might like to spend time with me in the garden. You can ‘follow’ The Mindful Gardener by clicking on the ‘follow’ button at the bottom of this page. You will receive a notification when a new post is published. I will share with you what is happening in the garden this week. I try to reflect upon life, and what the garden can teach us about living a more peaceful, sustainable life.