Rosa gallica versicolor, Rosa Mundi.

R. gallica var officinalis, Apothecary’s Rose.

A view of the Potomac River on a summer afternoon.

Writer Ira Glackens, son of painter William Glackens, was a conservationist before it became fashionable. He was an expert on heirloom apples, many varieties of which he planted at Labrador Farm, the Glackenses‘ country home, in New Hampshire. I remember chatting with him about Sheep’s Nose, Fameuse, Sops in Wine and Thomas Jefferson’s favorite, Spitzenburg. Unfortunaly, I had no great interest in apple trees, at the time. The tri-state (WV,MD, PA) area where I lived produced excellent apples and until recently one could buy Winter Banana, Grimes Golden, and Northern Spy at roadside fruit stands. One hardly needed an orchard unless one were Ira, who added a a dozen or so fruit trees to the back yard of the grist mill where he and his wife Nancy would spend their final couple of decades. That done, he went out and got himself a bright red Jeep so that he would have something sturdier than his Volvo and and vintage Jaguar to drive when he felt the urge to spray his pocket handkerchief orchard.
The fruit trees still remain where he planted them, thrity some years ago. Sadly, his heirloom roses and most of the the shrubs are gone. Gone, as well, is the Carolina sweetshrub, Calicanthus floridus he planted by the gate to the mill. Though lilies remain in some of the circular borders, the Rosa hugonis that leaned against a brick wall opposite the calicanthus shrub, has vanished. Nothing is left of the Gallicas officinalis, versicolor, and Tuscany Superb, the Albas Konigin von Danemark and Cuisse de Nymphe, the Bourbons Variegata di Bologna and Madame Isaac Pereira, Centifolias Chapeau de Napoleon, Fantin Latour and Rose des Peintres, and Tour de Malakoff, the Hybrid Perpetual Baronne Prevost and La Reine Victoria, the Moss Salet, the Damask Jacques Cartier.
One of the first roses he showed me was Rosa gallica var officinalis, the Apothecary’s Rose, also known as the Red Rose of Lancaster. I will never forget the silky delicacy of its red petals nestled against the pale ivory of his palm. Gallicas are ancient roses. Greeks and Romans cultivated it and later mediaeval gardeners planted it their physic gardens for medicinal use. Ira, who loved history, loved them less as flowers than as symbols of a time when the world had been a better place. As for me, the scent of Gallicas was the olphatory equivalent of Proust’s madeleines. It brought back the sun baked rose gardens of my Brazilian childhood, the cool, quiet courtyard and rose encircled fountain of a boarding school up in the verdant hills of that had once belonged to my Kariri ancestors.
I mentioned earlier that most of the roses of my childhood were French. How many of them carried parts of the genetic code of Gallicas is something I may never know. European immigrants often changed their own names when they reached the New World. They also changed the names of the plants they brought with them. My Brazilians ancestors retained the names of the Alba Amelia and the Hybrid Tea La France, . They changed Cecile Brunner to Rosa Menina and Black Prince to Principe Negro. I have yet to find out the true name of they renamed Sangue de Cristo. What they could not alter was the unforgettable fragrance of the Old Gardens Roses they brought from Europe. That I would rediscover it in the garden of an old grist mill in West Virginia is only one of the gifts that came my way through Ira.
In the years I lived near his house I knew Ira as painter, as a biographer, as a cook who baked bread and made a delicious moussaka, and as a gardener. Years after his death, when I had planted and lost more roses than he had at the mill house, I learnt that Ira had written a great number of articles on horticulture and that he had served as at chairman of the American Pomological Society. I regret enormously that I did not take the opportunity to learn more from him. In part, I wanted desperately to avoid giving the impression that I hoped to benefit from his wealth. As it was, he and Nancy gave a number of undeserved presents and in villages such as mine it takes great intestinal fortitude to compete for the affection of wealthy folks. I think that is a pity.
I think it eqyually sad that the garden and orchard Ira planted in West Virginia may be irretrievably lost. This year, I planted several of his roses in my own garden. This is my second or third attempt to grow them on a piece of land that was once a grazing meadow for the cattle belonging to the original owner of the grist mill Ira so lovingly restored. Unlike those I planted nearly a quarter of a century ago, these roses are cloned, not grafted. In West Virginia’s hot and humid climate, blackspot is practically a given. My organic garden, the cooling breezes wafting from the nearby Potomac river seem to be charged with fungi. Aphids and Japanese beetles thrive in this environment and all but the tougher roses languish. Through the years, most of my original planting, died down, leaving behind Dr. Huey rootstock, an unhandsome plant that produces an unhandsome, unscented red blossom. But gardeners know that the way to bliss is not through a feather bed. Planting roses is my bliss and my way of remebering Ira.


Dorothy Perkins and Fairy roses plus blue salvia and honeysuckle.

Dorothy Perkins blooms exuberantly in warm weather .

Sulphur yellow Louisiana iris.

The beans of contention.

Fusion grill with Halutza olive oil and ponzu sauce.

I bought them for their chartreuse color, feeling a bit like the main character in Katherine Mansfield’s short story Bliss, “There were tangerines and apples, stained with strawberry pink. Some yellow pears, smooth as silk, some white grapes covered with a silver bloom and a big cluster of purple ones. Those last she bought to tone in with the new dining room carpet. Yes, that did sound farfetched and absurd, but it was really why she had bought them.” My purchase, Mayacoba Peruano beans, came from the Mexican village of Mayacoba, in Sinaloa, as their name indicates.
Little did I know when I bought them that Mayacobas had been a bean of contention between American grower Larry Proctor and the Mexican government. Neither did I know that they had a long history in Peru, there archaeologists found a cache of seeds dating back to four thousand years before the Incas. It is not clear how Mayacobas came to Sinaloa, but apparently Mexican farmers had been growing them for centuries when Larry Proctor applied for a patent for Enola beans, which he claimed to have invented. Enola, it turns out, comes from subsets of Mayacobas Proctor bought in Mexico in 1990. The legal moves and countermoves through which Proctor sought to collect six cents for every pound of Mayacobas sold by vendors other than himself, in no way affect the nature of the delicious, almost nutty flavor and firm texture of these beans. But is not only flavor and textures that place these unusually colored beans at the center of a legal storm. What is really unusual about Mayacobas, aka azufrados and canarios, is that are very easy on the digestive system. That is, they are most definitely not a musical fruit.
Since the human intestinal tract lacks the enzymes needed to break down raffinose, the complex sugar found in beans, Mexican cooks have learnt add limit its effect by adding the herbs epazote and cilantro to beans dishes. There is no reason not to enhance the flavor of Mayacobas with herbs. They are great in salads and they go well with basil, oregano and, why not, fresh tarragon. If you wish to go wildly into fusion cooking, try them as a filling for wraps with grillewd beef that has been marinated in ponzu (soy sauce flavored with the citrus fruit yuzu), a mild Israeli olive oil such as Halutza, onions and garlic. You don’t have to have tone them in with a sulphur yellow rug. I don’t. In any case, the marvelous chartreuse color fades to creamy tan after cooking. If you crave color, have your meal under a rose arbor. Your Dorothy Perkins roses should be in full bloom at the moment. Mine came from a slip taken from an abandoned farmhouse–locally they are known as farmer’s rose. They are one of the least demanding roses to grow. I am toying with the idea of adding sulphur yellow irises and coral bells to the flowerbed where they are planted. Blame it on the beans.


Path at Georges Sand’s garden, Nohant.

The dream–Georges Sand’s garden at Nohant, painted by Delacroix.

The reality–a modest path bordered by sweet rocket and a a volunteer redbud.

A Worth creation

In my next life I will embrace minimalism. I will wear starkly tailored black clothes and live in a Richard Neutrahhouse decorated with no more than a couple of Noguchi pieces. I will become a vegan and drink nothing but Pernod. I will read Derrida and listen to Phillip Glass. I will make a Japanese garden with only three plants. If you believe that, I have a bridge I would like to sell you.
These are the facts–I believe that if you don’t have some excess in your life, you are on your way to becoming one of those one-dimensional stick people little kids draw. If I could choose two clothes designers, I would choose Vionnet and Worth. I like plush, lush, sumptuous stuff. I like silk velvet, satin, soft Kashmiri shawls, handmade Valenciennes lace. I like colors–cinnabar, eau de nil, heliotrope, indigo, lapis lazuli, rose madder, saffron yellow. Minimalism, deconstructionism, pretty much any kind of ism just isn’t my thing. There is no danger that I will become the owner of a Japanese garden. I don’t have the temperament for Zen. Mine is a very Victorian sensibility. I like Queen Anne houses and Cotswold cottages. I love Grand Marnier and I detest Pernod. Though I mean to reform any day soon, I am, at present, an unreconstructed meat eater. I love Eastlake chairs and camel back sofas, reproductions of Paul Duprees sugary botanical paintings, blue and white Sttafordshire, flowery Limoges, embroidered linens and frilly furbelows. I could almost say, as Flaubert did, that “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” Minus Charles, Rodolphe, Leon and suicide, bien sur.
I do not have the temperament for Zen. I adore Dickens in all his overblown verbosity, I love Tchaikovy’s folksy musical gingerbread and I would not trade Beethoven’s Appassionata for a million Glass concerti.
Now, don’t go thinking that I go around swathed in silks and velvets. I should be so lucky. I wear denim all too often. I live in a log house and my love of Victorian trappings is kept severely in check by budgetary constraints. But for better or for worse, plants are my downfall. I burn with a lust that has no bounds for roses and roses and roses and peonies and irises and ferns and poppies. I lust for pawpaw and yuzu and meddlars, bananas and fig trees. Then I lust some more. As we speak, I wait with great impatience for the arrival of approximately two dozens roses, twenty peonies, a dozen ferns, a white ornamental quince, a clump of Hakonechloa, half a dozen German irises and three Fialla lilacs. As I wait, I work on a wish list that grows dangerously long–the old roses roses Ghislaine de Feligonde, Guirlande d’Amour, Queen of the Bourbons, Ispahan, Kazanlik, Omar Khayyam, Deuil de Paul Fontaine, Charles de Mills, Rose de Reshts, Perles des Panachees, Tour de Malakoff, Robin Hood, and the newer Livin‘ Easy. Finding room for this many plants could be a problem unless I tear up the lawn. I have some space I am honor bound to leave untouched. The turtles and birds that live in my neighborhood need it more than I do. The lawn is another story. I am very tempted to do away with it. However, it is no good to imagine that it can be replaced by roses and perennials. I would have to go with native plan, deer resistant plants that require no watering. Bother. In my next life I to be George Sand. Better yet, I want to be Queen Victoria.