It’s amazing. Kabul in the early summer, and there are roses everywhere. They surround the fountain at the centre of the courtyard around which my hotel is constructed. They line the streets, and are resplendent on the roundabouts. Amid the dust of the city, hazy gritty air man-made through construction or swirling in as part of a sand storm, the roses bloom.
This is not a surprise, I suppose. After all, the word itself is traced back to Old Persian, from where it travelled – via Greek and then Oscan, an old Italianate language – to the Latin, rosa, and from there to French and then English. So this is a plant with flowers where I live and roots where I work!
In western European culture the rose is considered a temperamental plant, difficult to grow, and needing the endless hours of retirement before it can be properly cultivated. And yet in Kosovo, in 2001 after the Balkan wars, the first thing that public works employees did in Prishtina was to plant flower beds with roses. There were mounds of garbage piling up, the streets were rutted and torn by tanks or bombs, but first the roses bloomed.
And here in Kabul, in a city where uncertainty still reigns, the public works department is carefully planting and tending the roses.
These are not just municipal priorities. Along one of the roads which we drive on a fairly regular basis, I was delighted to see a series of garden centres. And there, in the front, were clay pots containing rose bushes. I would love to see a family there, selecting the best one for their garden, choosing the colour – yellow, red, white, gold – and scent – heavily perfumed, gentle, none- before deciding on the type – should this be a climber, or a shrub rose, or a rambler?
I have roses in my garden. In the back there is a bed of rosa rugosa, the wild rose, all gangly from never having been properly pruned. I took the secateurs to them this spring, so hopefully they will fill out a little through the summer. We also have three of the climbing type, two newly planted. I agonized for hours over which to buy, reviewing a very fine catalogue sent by friends in Ottawa. They arrived a couple of weeks ago, and were prepped in on the night before I left, located to clamber up over the verandah of the back deck, entwined in the ancient honeysuckle that lingers there.
In the front garden out by the road a rambler rose arches out over the culvert. It was there when we bought the house, and hasn’t flowered once. Last fall we cleared out all the surrounding growth of grasses and wild dock, so hopefully this year we shall have a display. Along the edge of the driveway we planted a hedge of cuttings, root stock taken from the pruned mess in the back. They had started to put up new shoots just before I left, so in a year or so there will be a fine fragrant hedge to greet visitors.
Along the main flower bed in front of the house are the bush roses, six of them – two an apricot-gold known as the Morden Blush, and two are Persian yellow, both sets flanking a pair of white roses.
I am, after all, a Yorkshireman!
As summer comes, and the Battle of Bosworth Field is remembered on 22 August, who can forget that day in 1485, just 527 years ago? On that day fell the last true king of England, Richard III, betrayed by the traitorous inaction of Percy (Early of Northumberland) and the traitorous opportunism of the Stanley’s from Norfolk. And, later, slandered by that scribbler from Stratford in his attempts to curry favour with Elizabeth, the Lancastrian upstart.
The Kosovars with whom I worked used to say “you don’t understand, we are the Illyrians! We have a history, we remember the past!” To which I would reply – and so do the people of Yorkshire.