Home Gardening with Barbara: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

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Having spent the past couple of years getting nothing I expected, I offer a story taken directly from Rachei Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom, because she has said it far better than I could.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

My backyard on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais in Northern California is actually a very small meadow. In the summer and fall of every year, a stag visits at dawn and twilight. This is quite a thing for someone who grew up in Manhattan. This year he has six points on his antlers. Last year five or perhaps four. He is heart-stopping.

Actually, I did not plan to have a stag. I planned to have a rose garden. The year after I moved here, I planted fifteen rose bushes, gifts from my friends. It was a lot of hard work, but I could see it in my mind’s eye. Just like in Sunset Magazine. The roses bloomed in the late spring and for a month the garden was glorious. Then the roses started disappearing. Puzzled, I eventually realized that something larger than aphids was eating them and became determined to catch it in the act. Getting up one dawn and glancing out the window, I was transfixed by seeing the stag for the first time. He looked like an illustration from one of my childhood books. As I watched in awe, he unhurriedly crossed the yard, browsed for a while among the roses, and then delicately ate one of my Queen Elizabeths.

Every year since then I have had to make a difficult choice. Am I going to put up higher fences and have roses, or am I going to have a stag ten feet from my back door? Every year so far, I have chosen the stag. After two years of watching each other through a pane of glass, I can now sit outside as he dines.

If I tell people this, some say in disbelief, “You mean that you are letting this deer eat your roses?” Sometimes I will invite someone like this over to watch. One friend, stunned into silence by the sight, said simply, “Well, I guess we are always doing the right things for the wrong reasons.” I had thought I was planting rose bushes in order to have roses. It now seems I was actually planting rose bushes in order to have half an hour of silence with this magical animal every morning and every evening.

We all make plans. Every day, we make choices. Life sends us options we didn’t expect. This tale is a modern-day parable that looks at first glance like a gardening story but is really a life lesson.