I often visit cemeteries on my travels. My sweetheart is drawn to them, looking for curiosities such as green men, weeping angels and tough plants. At first I thought it was all a bit ghoulish, but several years on, I’ve come to appreciate their different characters. Some are neglected now; overgrown, but romantic for all that. Others are still neatly tended, formal, official.
One that I particularly love to visit is Greenwood Cemetery, a block or so away from the centre of Jackson, MS, where an extensive collection of roses grow ‘wild’. The site dates back to 1821. More than 100 unknown soldiers lie here, as well as Southern author, Eudora Welty, herself a rose lover.
If you think of roses as fussy or fragile, think again. Other than being carefully positioned between the graves to help protect them from the city workers’ string trimmers, these roses manage just fine on their own. Any plant that doesn’t adapt gradually fades away.
They’re grown by rule breakers. The soil is not enriched before they are planted (usually thought of as a cardinal sin, unless the soil already happens to be humus-rich and creamy textured, not sun baked hard as the soil is here). The plants are never watered, other than by the heavens, not even at planting, in a climate that can be challenging at times for some people, never mind a rose.
Rosarians often quote the mantra, ‘provide a regular, deep soaking during the first year until the rose is well-established’. I’m pretty sure three summer months in succession without rain doesn’t count, even if the drought is most likely broken by a downpour!
My sweetheart, curious to see if roses could survive under these conditions, has hauled more than one truckload of own root antique and modern roses here from The Antique Rose Emporium in Texas. They are in the care of Cecile Wardlaw, the Executive Director of the Greenwood Cemetery Association, and her team of volunteers who dedicate time and resources to help preserve the cemetery and its monuments. Their community-spirited activities include holding regular planting events and workshops where they teach people how to root roses from cuttings.
Today over 200 roses, mostly Chinas with some floribundas and polyanthas, are grown anonymously, so they can be judged on their own merits, for the pleasure of visitors. They’re the type that is known as everblooming in the US, although I prefer the English term, repeat flowering. I’ve visited the site at various times in the year and have never seen it without at least some blooms, though at some times of the year, they could best be described as stragglers.
At their peak in spring, the roses are a joyful sight, and a wonderful way to celebrate the lives commemorated here.
If you’d like to reach out to the Greenwood Cemetery Association to find out more about this historic cemetery, or offer help to maintain it, you can find them on Facebook.
2016 has seen far too many of our creative heroes and heroines taken from us. I’m dedicating this post to their memory, in particular Alan Rickman, my favourite actor.