As we head into the final week of the semester, and with less than two weeks remaining until Christmas, I thought I would do something a little different in the garden this week. Something special. Particularly as the weather today is a rare December treat consisting of pale blue skies and warmer temperatures. If it hadn’t been for the slightest nip to the air, you could almost have believed we were enjoying a late summer.

Flowers on the bush I trimmed heavily a while back, to prevent my washing catching upon it when drying on the line, has started sprouting again with delicate white buds, who have an aroma almost as syrupy as the sweet perfume of Jasmine. On the leaves I watch two odd-looking wasps hovering in search of pollen. Nearby, three ladybirds seem to be stretched out, relaxing on the greenery, which leaves me wondering whether anyone has bothered to pass on the memo to the insects that summer’s gone and winter has already arrived to take its place.

Anyway, wanting to do something memorable on this final gardening session before Christmas, I decide to avoid doing any sensible work. I Choose to ignore the weeds that have grown so profusely through the paving stones you almost have to step over them as you walk as I’ve a strong suspicion they’ll still be there, waiting for me in January. 

I drive to my nearest garden centre instead, where I find just the sort of plant that I need for today’s task, choose a nice pot to go with it and then allow myself the treat of drifting around the Christmas section.

Back at home, with the afternoon cup of tea made, I persuade Steve to come into the garden with me. He’s more of stay indoors sort of a person, and so as he steps onto the damp patio, he blinks at the brightness of the pastel blue sky, saying, ‘So this is outdoors…’
Fidget joins us, delighted that he has both of us to play with today, and I realise that I now appear to have two assistants, both of whom are stood uncertainly, watching me as I begin to prepare.

My idea though, is something that I know will mean a lot to Steve.

Christmas is fast approaching. The time of year for families, of spending lazy days with one another, of supposedly being happy, bursting with seasonal joy and merriment. It’s what we expect to feel, it’s what we want to feel and yet, many of us are left increasingly sad and lonely. Especially so, if you’ve lost a loved one: years ago, during the past year, or if perhaps the anniversary of their passing coincides with the Christmas season.

Christmas has the ability to remind us of what and whom we have lost, leaving us painfully aware of that person’s absence from our lives. And our grief can re-surface, feeling as if we are mourning the loss of our loved one all over again., desperately in need to feel their presence near us, to try and connect with them once more, hoping that we won’t feel so desolate, so alone.

Or, maybe, it is time to say good-bye.

Different cultures use ceremonies and rituals as a way of marking those important events and moments in life that we need to acknowledge and want to cherish. Because a ceremony can offer a sense of closure, while also creating a thread of connection that allows us to keeps our memories and love alive.

Our garden is a place where we can make our own, more personal ceremony and where we can be as creative as we want to be. To me, planting a rose for those you have loved and lost can be a touching way to say your farewells. Or to establish a living memorial for someone who was special in your life, and remains so in your memories. A place we can be, to feel close to them, that is more personal than visiting a graveyard or cemetery.

For Steve, I have chosen a red rose called Remembrance, to plant in memory of his Gran, Emily, who faded from our lives shortly after Christmas last year.

Roses are a prolific species, with over a hundred varieties and an immense range of colours, and intriguing names; and are a trustworthy choice of flower to use as a memorial. Even I have never managed to kill one off. They’re perennial; they flower extensively, and become more magnificent as they age, particularly when you use the trailing varieties. If, however you wanted to create your own variety of rose there are companies online that sell seeds, which you can grow, name yourself and record on their rose registry.
This rose I’ve bought today is nothing much to look at. Its stalks are stumpy and bare, although the small amount of foliage it does have is stunning, with petite, dark green leaves and red rim trailing around the edges. Even so, we hope that from spring to autumn next year, Remembrance will flower in our garden and when it does, Gran will no longer seem as far away from us as she does today.

I layer compost in the new pot, which Fidgey sniffs, before positioning the rose in the centre of the soil, covering the roots up to the knobbly bit that needs to stay above ground level. When I’m done, Steve chooses where he thinks Gran’s rose should be placed on the patio, while I finish by watering the rose, to bed it in, which Fidge, ever the opportunist sees as a chance to dip his paws in and have a drink.

The sky is clear and blue around us; the air feels fresh and alive. We smile at one another, and raise our mugs of tea.

‘To Gran,’ we say, a fitting tribute to a woman who loved her cups of tea as much as we do. And so, side-by-side, we stand silently, thinking of Gran. Missing her. Trusting that given time, this scrawny rose will blossom and bloom, each petal an offering of love and hope, and remembrance of an amazing woman, who touched our lives, and who was Steve’s beloved Gran.