My package had made it through the airport scanner, and the agent at Washington Dulles airport frowned. He took out his knife and sliced open my carefully taped box. Rummaging through the clothes and shoes and books, he pulled out a ziplock bag containing a wet paper towel wrapped around a muddy ball.
“This” was a clump of roots from a rose I’d dug up from my family’s farm. All along the springline, wild roses and wild grapes and the hairy vines of poison ivy reached up into the trees. In spring, we gathered clusters of the roses and make bouquets. In summer, we made jelly. And in autumn we admired the gorgeous red leaves of the poison ivy from afar.
Back in Denver, I planted the root ball in a protected corner along the south-facing wall of our house. More than a dozen years later, I still treasure the rose that I collected. It’s hard to admit that I love an invasive weed, but I do. Rosa multiflora is a favorite not for its beauty or scent or color, but for the memories of home that it holds.
Other than this species rose, most of my rose experience centered around Mother’s Day, when my husband and kids would bring home a lovely plant which I typically managed to kill by the following year. Of the ones that survived, a few changed color. But at any given time, I have about eight spindly rose bushes and my one massive shrub.
And then my husband and I bought a home in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver from long-time Denver Rose Society member Elaine Mateyka. Her husband, Matt Mateyka, had died in 1997, but he had been a Den- ver personality. Matt was known for his Hawaiian shirts, big floppy hats, and the News 4 gardening show that was filmed in the expansive yard. Even today, wherever I dig, I’m likely to find blue speaker wire. It took a while to realize that a few of the rocks scattered around the yard were not rocks at all, but speakers.
Despite the fact that Matt had the television show, neighbors tell me it was Elaine who was the real gardener. Her incredible rose garden was in a section of the property that, according to all the stories I’ve heard, Matt had won in a poker game. That rose garden is long gone, the land sold and turned into houses, but still scat- tered around the remaining yard are a few of the Mateyka’s roses. The tags are there, faded and nearly un- readable with age. And those plants are what prompted me to join the Denver Rose Society.
I’ll never be the gardeners the Mateykas were, caring for hundreds of roses, but I want to honor their legacy and make the yard once again a place of beauty. My tastes lean towards shrubby and fragrant and historical, so my additions to the garden have been OGRs and David Austins and Fairmount Cemetery roses rather than hybrid teas and minis. And tucked into an over- grown corner where lilacs and Rose of Sharon and aspen are all duking it out, their roots intertwined in speaker wire, I’m now nurturing another clump from my Rosa multiflora.
This article appeared in the June 2017 issue of “The Rose Window,” the on-line publication of the Denver Rose Society.