Somewhere there is a picture of me in the rose garden at home with my stepmother, aged five or six. I was clearly transfixed by the roses and, whilst I can’t remember it, I am fairly sure that the rose was the first flower to implant itself firmly within both my heart and my imagination. My birthday is on 4 June, to coincide with the first great flowering, so perhaps the excitement attendant to that reinforced what has become my greatest floral love affair.
If I could only grow one plant it would be the rose, and the wilder species roses that flower only once and in crystalline simplicity are just as lovely as the more recently bred continually flowering examples, lovelier even. I adore the sweetbriar roses in my hedges, whose leaves release the crisp scent of apple when rubbed.
In fact, a rose garden of purely old species varieties (the original prototype ones) would be a perfectly sensible idea. A rose garden planted only for the crisp May foliage roses provide would be a perfectly sensible idea, as would a rose garden purely dedicated to their autumn hips. Everything about the rose sits well, except, of course, its thorns.
My wife Sybilla and I run a small art gallery from a thatched cottage I renovated a few years ago at the top of the garden. I have always collected East Anglian art and we kept tripping over pictures leant up against walls in the house. Sybilla recommended making an art gallery of the cottage to get the pictures off the floor, as much as anything else. We thought it would compliment the garden.
When lockdown happened we realised no one would visit the gallery so I set up an Instagram account to take the gallery to other people. To our immense surprise, lockdown has turned us into fully-fledged and quite busy art dealers. Clearly this is good but I found it very hard to begin with because it can be difficult for me to part with paintings. Not an ideal characteristic in an art dealer.
As with roses, everything about providing people with beautiful pictures is good except, I used to feel, the thorny issue of having to say goodbye. The first few times I sold a painting, the parting felt like a physical pain. But more
recently I have become dimly aware that the joy of capture is matched in some subtle way with the joy of release.
We recently acquired a simple but exquisite study of roses in a jar by an excellent Essex artist called Robert Alexander. It is signed and dated June 1915. It is so obvious he went out into his June garden and brought a few flowers in to paint. It has such fidelity and fluidity for that reason. I think it is exquisite.
In the past, I wouldn’t have contemplated selling such a thing. If push had come to shove, Iprobably would have eaten it before I sold it. But becoming an art dealer has forced me to see the world differently. As Sybilla says, there is no point having a gallery if nothing within it is for sale. She has a point. I will sell the roses. I will enjoy selling them. Someone else will have the joy of those roses on their wall and that is a good thing. To my abiding surprise, I have realised that there really is a joy in release and it really does reach beyond the simple pleasure of generating revenue within a business.
June is unquestionably the month of release in the garden too. In this month if in no other put down the mental instruments of control that all gardeners by necessity have. Do not walk round the garden seeing only jobs. Stop. Enjoy.
By all means, sow some salad leaves or start some biennials, tidy the box, tie in, potter about, dead head and so on, but make sure you take more out of the garden than it takes out of you. June, and the pinnacle of the longest day that it contains really does only come around once a year. Blink and you miss it. This really is the month to extract the maximum unbridled pleasure from your garden that you can. A garden without work? There is a fine idea. A rose without thorns? Is it possible? In June, anything is possible.
Charlie Hart is the author of No Fear Gardening: How to think like a gardener (Constable).
This article first appeared in the June issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe now.