The Gardener’s Three Roses
By Mike DeCamp
Nestled in a land of hills that roll like the rising and falling of the human experience is a lush garden filled with a myriad of fine flowers of all shapes, scents, and colors. The flowers flourish under a nourishing sun that sends down its rays with wild abandon, and they fill the landscape with the beauty of their patchwork quilt of color.
This garden is owned by a master gardener. No flower goes unnoticed by his watchful eye, and he gives careful instructions to each of his apprentice gardeners on the proper care for each variety. His love for his garden is unmatched by any, and he demands that each of his apprentices maintain a similar affection.
In one small corner of the master’s vast garden was one little patch given into the care of a new apprentice named Henry. It was not much. Maybe ten feet by ten feet. Just enough room for the man and a few cultivating pots. It had a little grass and some shrubs around the perimeter that hid the lower part of a brick wall that encased three sides. The fourth side was closed off by an iron fence with a small gate. A single stone cylinder with a flat top captivated the eye in the center.
Henry the gardener was overwhelmed with the excitement of caring for his own little part of the master’s wonderland. Yet, he looked around, and there were no flowers in his small portion of the garden. Sadness gripped him, and he called out to the master to see if he would give him at least one flower to care for.
The master gardener realized the apprentice’s despair, and assured him that when the time was right, he would provide him with a special flower that he could cultivate and nurture. In the meantime, the master worked with him in developing the skills and knowledge that he would need in his work.
After some time had passed, the master walked into the Henry’s empty patch of ground carrying a single pot containing one long-stemmed rose with a single flower bud residing at the top.
“I have brought this to you from a nearby patch. The gardener there has cared for it from a seedling, and he did not really want to part with it, but it is time for you become the gardener that I have trained you to be. Take this rose. Water it. Prune it. Keep weeds from its soil. Nurture it so that it can bloom and contribute to the beauty of my vast garden.”
The young gardener was filled with gratitude and relief, and accepted the small flower with evident enthusiasm. Already, he loved his job, and he loved this single rose that he could call his own. He sat the pot on the stone platform in the center of his space where it could get good sun. He watered it. He fertilized it. Then, he sat down and watched to see if the bud would open.
The bud did not open that day. In fact, it did not open for several days, and the gardener was filled with anticipation. The rose was obviously healthy with a deepening green in the foliage, and new growth on the stem, and still the bud did not open. He watched. He waited.
A few more days went by. He watered. He watched. He fertilized. He waited. The anticipation began to wear Henry down, and he began to think that the flower would not bloom for him. Perhaps, he was not good enough. Then, finally he noticed that the bud was beginning to swell, and hope arose once again in his heart. That night in his sleep he had visions of a beautiful flowering rose filling his dreams.
When he arrived at the garden the next morning, he was stunned! The rose had opened fully under the warming sun, and the bloom’s unfolding pedals were turned in his direction revealing the depths of their intricate character. It was the deepest red that he had ever seen. The color of passion. The color of obsession. He fell on his knees in front of the rose with tears streaming down his blushing cheeks. He truly loved this rose. He loved it more than anything else in his life.
Time ebbed by, and the apprentice gardener doted over his rose. He carefully pruned away dead leaves, and closely inspected the foliage for pests. And, the rose grew. It sprouted stems in every direction, and more buds formed leading to more deep red flowers. The beauty overwhelmed the young gardener, and his devotion to the rose intensified.
Late in the summer, when fall was approaching, the master gardener visited the young apprentice. “Son, winter is coming,” he said. “And you will need to take special care to ensure your rose’s survival through those difficult days.”
The young man was frightened. He could control the smaller problems: water, weeds, and insects. However, he had no control over the cold, the wind, and the snow. “How can I protect her?” Henry asked.
The master spent the next few weeks teaching his pupil how to prepare his rose for the oncoming weather. He detailed the techniques required to not only protect his flower, but how to also ensure that the rose would thrive in the coming spring. He was fully prepared, but still, when the cold arrived, he was filled with fear for his rose’s safety. It was so hard to watch as the flower petals wilted, and the leaves turned and fell away. It was even harder to prune the plant back and cut away the majestic branches that had fanned out in all directions. He was steeped in worry, but the master assured him that she would survive and be even more spectacular in the next season. He prayed that it would be so.
When spring came, the gardener watched with anticipation for the stems to bud with new growth. “When will it ever happen?” he exclaimed. “Oh, I just can’t wait!” When he was sure he could take no more waiting, the rose budded and new growth began. It was just as the master described! The pruning and the care led to incredible growth, and soon new flower buds formed. Dozens and dozens of them! He was amazed, and even more in awe of her beauty.
Days became months, and months became seasons. Soon another winter came and went. Henry was becoming more and more skilled in the care of his part of the master’s garden, but he soon became acquainted with other apprentice gardeners and some of the things he heard filled him with anxiety. He had heard that sometimes the master took away a flower and gave it to someone else, and the apprentice could only watch with sadness.
He pondered this. He worried about it. He forgot that that was how he had acquired the rose in the first place. He forgot that the rose belonged to the master, and was not his personal possession. He became jealous and fearful. Every time that he would hear that the master was in the area, he would shiver with trepidation.
One day, in the spring of his forth season, the master appeared at the gate of his little square of a garden. “Can I visit with you for a few minutes?” the master asked.
“Umm, sure, I guess,” said the apprentice hesitantly. “Come on in.”
“I have noticed the work that you do, and the level of care that you take with...”
“I promise that I do my very best!” he interrupted. “I am fully devoted to my rose.”
“I know, and I want to talk with you about the responsibility.”
Henry was frightened now. He was sure that the master was going to take his rose away. Fear, already filling his soul, began to overflow and bear down on him. He fell to his knees to beg.
“Please, oh please don’t take her away from me,” he cried. “I love her so much. I think about her all the time and I am fully devoted to her care. Please!” Tears welled up and ran across the stubble on his face.
The master’s eyes filled with compassion and tears of his own as he saw the man’s anguish. He reached out and placed his hands on the gardener’s shoulders, and then brought them up so that they each rested on Henry’s cheeks.
“Oh, son, I am not going to take her away from you. How could I? She opened for you. She has shared her full beauty with you. She is almost as much yours as she is mine. I would never dream of doing such a thing?”
“But, the other gardeners said…” he started, but hesitated.
“What did they say son?”
“They said that you often come and take their plants and give them away, and they have no say in the matter.”
Now, the master chuckled. “Those are the seedlings! Where do you think your rose came from? Another gardener raised some seedlings, and I took one of those and gave it to you.”
“So, you aren’t going to take my rose away?”
“I would never dream of it. She is yours for as long as she lives, and for as long as you can care for her.”
Relief settled in his heart, and spread across his face. He wiped tears off his chin with the sleeve of his shirt, and dropped down with his bottom on the grass. He was so relieved that he did not recall that there was something that the master did want to talk with him about. “Thank you,” he said, and he meant it with all his heart.
“You are welcome, Henry. Now, about the business I came to see you about.”
“Oh, yeah. What can I do for you?” said the master’s disciple.
“I’m going to add to your responsibility. I have a seedling for you to nurture. If you treat it with the same care as you have your rose, it will grow up, and one day I will come and take it back. I will provide it to another young gardener just getting his start. It will not open for you. As with your rose, the flowers in my garden only open and share their hearts with one gardener that they claim as their own. You see, your rose claimed you. And, one day, the seedling you care for will claim someone else. It will be painful to let go, but let go you must. It is the way of this garden.”
“Master,” he said with resolve, “I am honored. I will work with the same determination and care. I will protect this young seedling. I will keep the weeds away. I will keep the bugs away. I will see that it is strong and healthy and ready to bloom.”
“I know you will. That is why I am giving you this duty.” With that, he walked back to the gate and retrieved a very small pot that had a very delicate stem with only three leaves growing out of the center. “Here she is. Take care that she gets some sun, but not too much. You must find a balance. Put her in the shade of your rose, and let her leaves filter the rays. Use the same care with water and fertilizer. She will need some, but take care not to overdo it.”
The master turned and walked to the gate, where he hesitated. “Henry, I will come back for her. I know you will become attached. That is one of the reasons that you are a great gardener. But, you must remember whose garden this really is, and what your role is in this matter.” Then, the master left.
A couple of more years went by, and the seedling grew in the shade of the rose, and it became apparent that the seedling itself was in fact a rose also. And, although flower buds formed, they did not open. She was in his care, but she was not his. He did grow attached, intensely attached, but he always kept in mind that he would have to let her go. It did not matter how much his heart grew strings.
In the third year, the master returned. Henry was sure that it was time for his seedling to be taken. He steeled himself for the coming separation. However, he was surprised when, in fact, the master handed him another seedling. Like the first, it had only one delicate stem and a few leaves. He placed it next to the first, now bigger seedling in the shade of his precious rose.
The master did not return for several years, and both seedlings grew. They both sprouted buds, but did not open. Henry’s original rose also continued to grow. It soon stood taller than him, and he needed a ladder to prune the top. He could sit in the rose’s shade in the afternoon and sip lemonade. His obsession with her had matured into something else. Something deeper. He began to realize that the rose touched his heart. There was a connection that he could not explain.
Although the seedlings did not open their blooms for him, their colors peeked out from the tops of the buds, and he could catch just a glimpse of their coming glory, the glory of what they would one day become. The first seedling appeared to have a wild flair to her. Her colors were a bluish tint mixed with yellow. The younger one had a more delicate appearance with light pink tipping the buds. He could only imagine how beautiful both would be in full bloom. He longed to see, but kept reminding himself that that was not to be. They could not bloom until he had let go. He doted on these seedlings just as he did his rose. They were like his babies. His heart strings were fully engaged.
Finally, the master appeared at his gate.
“Is it time?” Henry asked.
“Yes, Henry, it is. At least for one. There is a new man on the other side of the garden,” the master explained. “I have been training him, and I think he is ready.”
“Can I meet him,” Henry asked with a protective tone.
“Perhaps someday, but not today. Today, the seedling will be his to nurture.”
“The older one. She has grown enough, and she is ready to share her glory with the world. She will make a fine addition to my garden.”
Henry’s heart pounded, and he was heavy with grief. It was so very hard to let her go. He wanted to hold her back, to keep her with him. However, he knew that she could never be what she was intended to be, she could never truly bloom until she left his grasp.
“What if she won’t bloom for him?” Henry asked.
“I will be watching,” the master replied. “I will make sure that the right match is made. If she will not bloom, or if he does not take proper care, I will make sure that she will be in the hands of the right gardener.”
“You are breaking my heart,” Henry said. “I feel so scared for her, and I don’t want to be parted.”
“I know. It is the same pain that the gardener felt who gave up his seedling to be your rose. But, have confidence in my judgment. As I have been watching you care for your rose, I will be watching this new gardener care for this young one.”
Henry carried the older seedling, now filling her small planter, over to the master and handed her into his hands. He was crying as the master left his garden, so he sat down in the shade of his rose, took a sip of lemonade, and dropped his head into his hands. The emotions were heavy. Grief was mixed with fear, and they were both mixed with pride in his little budding seedling. She would be awe-inspiring. Of that, he had no doubt.
He raised his eyes from his hands and looked at the other, younger seedling with the pink tips on her buds. He still had her with him, but his time was limited, he knew. The master would be returning soon for her, to take her to a new garden. He couldn’t bear the thought, so he pushed it aside. She was here now. That was all that counted. He reached out and plucked a dead leaf from one of her stems, and then brushed his finger tips across the pink tips of her buds. She would amaze the world too, very soon.
After a minute, he sat back in the shade of his rose. She gave him purpose. She gave him hope in his heart. She soothed the pain, and it almost seemed that her blooms were smiling at him. His spirit rose.