Aphrodite’s Tears

The timeless appeal of summer roses

By Ross Howell Jr.

June mornings I walk my dog Sam on a route that takes us by the rose garden of a house facing Fisher Park.

There’s a white trellis laden with the pink blossoms of a climbing rose. Next to the trellis, just inches beyond the white picket fence at the sidewalk, is a tea rose garden.

Standing by the picket fence, I’m about face-to-face with the tea roses. Delicate, intricate petals of red, of white, of yellow, calmly observe me. If Sam and I are early enough, there are still drops of dew on their faces.

I try not to, but I’m ogling. They’re so beautiful. So serene. So voluptuous.

And the fragrance! I breathe in the scent, smiling.

Sam looks up at me, a little doubtful as to the meaning of all this. I stand very still, and savor the fragrance again.

Is it any wonder roses have fascinated us humans for ages?

Some sources say roses have been cultivated in China as far back as the 14th century B.C. For the ancient Greeks, the rose was the symbol of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Legend holds that she created the rose from her tears, or in some accounts, from drops of her blood when she was pricked by thorns.

And there’s history. “Around the 12th or 13th century, knights returning from the Crusades brought the rose home to Europe,” writes Kayley Hollis. By the 15th century, the white rose had come to symbolize York, and the red rose Lancaster, two factions struggling for control of England. This is the conflict historians call the War of the Roses.

“The red rose is still the emblem of England, since Lancaster won the war,” Hollis writes. “Roses were in such high demand during the 17th century that royalty considered roses or rose water as legal tender.”

Then there’s popular culture. Roses figure in every schoolboy’s love poem to a sweetheart ever written. It’s elemental in theatrical productions, major motion pictures, novels. According to, the rose is the No. 1 flower of choice for bridal bouquets and arrangements. And our very own Replacements Ltd., tells me that “rose” is used in the description of an astonishing 25,963 china patterns, 2,913 crystal patterns, and 2,493 silver patterns!

How sweet’s the smell where I stand on the sidewalk. Jane Jackson, the neighbor who owns these beauties, tells me each of the tea varieties was chosen for its fragrance. As for the pink climbing rose on the trellis, “That’s ‘New Dawn,’” she says, “and honestly, it grows like kudzu.”

I notice irrigation lines in the tea rose bed, and I’m eager to ascribe that to my own lack of success with roses.

“Oh, that,” Jackson says. “I never use it. Plants thrive on neglect, if you ask me. They develop roots better.”

I ask the usual gardener’s question about cutting away spent blossoms.

“Oh, I know I’d get more roses if I dead headed more often,” Jackson says. “But people walking by enjoy the roses so much, I leave them longer than I should.”

For that Sam and I are grateful. At least I am. Sam has noticed a squirrel in the park.  OH

Ross Howell Jr. has assured his editors he’s not nearly as odd as this essay makes him sound.

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