I bought my first home at 26, romantic, wide-eyed, and ridiculously ecstatic. My husband and I had looked for months for a place to plant our upstate New York roots in the rapidly gentrifying farmlands around Nashua, N.H., a city that was considered one of the best places to live in the country and one we couldn't wait to leave.
We found our love cottage (yes, that is actually what we called it) in Lyndeborough, a gateway from the suburban Nashua sprawl to the Monadnock Region of southwestern New Hampshire. The property had everything we'd coveted: an apple orchard and ten acres for my husband to putter around in and an unspoiled antique cape with a beehive oven and wainscoting that I adored.
What we didn't know when we bought the house could fill a notebook, of course. There was a spring stream that gushed through the basement, resident porcupines that munched on our barn sills, mice that considered themselves part of the family, and a rutted, one-lane dirt road that sharpened my driving skills each mud season.
Not all of the surprises were unhappy ones. Having bought the house in November and moved in January, we had no idea that our 1830s cape with its three-story shingled barn built into a sloping hillside, was home to riotous perennials. They started cropping up in April like small soldiers, straight and proud. I had no idea what they were at first. I couldn't tell the difference between lilies of the valley and daylilies, bearded iris and Siberian iris, rose geranium and flowering sedum. They all announced themselves like old friends that first spring, happily taking whatever our land had to offer, while reaching straight up to the sun.
Our rich soil on Mountain Road grew nearly any plant or tree: raspberries, rhubarb, asparagus, cherries, grapes, peaches, and, of course, apples. The orchard consisted primarily of McIntosh trees with a smattering of Cortland and Baldwin trees, and a Northern Spy, whose pear-tinged flavor was my favorite.
I was most captivated by the flowers, those hardy New England perennials and their changing palette of colors. Over time, I learned how to work with them. I transplanted them to shade or sun, and paired their tones and textures, penciling them in against stone walls, white clapboards, and weathered shingles.
We had flowers everywhere. There was a flower bed behind the breezeway filled with tiger lilies, black-eyed susans, and daylilies in lemon and burnt orange. There was a front garden that pivoted on purple, pinks, and whites with phlox, irises, rose campion, and daises. The snowy hydrangea and lilac bushes occupied large swaths all their own.
But it was the flower patch out back, behind the house, which was my favorite. Turns out that our outdated (yet grandfathered) septic runoff fed a cloud of wild roses in varying shades of pink. Those flowers were so fragrant that when I threw open my kitchen windows, their scent did more than waft in, it settled in our bones.
Those brambly roses grew with the abandon of an unschooled toddler. I liked their princess colors, but it was their spicy-sweet fragrance that I loved best. The creamy rose scent seemed laced with cinnamon. I couldn't wait until they blossomed each year, starting at the end of June.
When the first blossoms popped, I'd gather all my vases on our picnic table and fill them with the thorny goods, bringing their silky fragrance into every room of the house. I didn't care that the blossoms lasted only a day or two. I'd throw the old ones out, gather new ones, and make the season linger as long as I could. There were ten days or maybe two weeks of delicious rose blooms.
Today, I live thirty minutes and a lifetime away from Lyndeborough. I find myself in another sweet cottage, this time on my own. This spring, my yard was filled with lavender wisteria, scarlet and white peonies, ice blue Siberian iris. In this last week of June, I was surprised by four curving strands of wild roses within sniffing distance of my screen porch. For the past few days, I've gathered burgeoning rose blooms and filled small vases: one for the kitchen, one for the dining room, one for my bedroom.
I notice now when the petals curl up and start their hasty decay, their fragrance deepens with a final intense push. I pick the rumpled petals off all the surfaces they touch: tabletops and dressers and floors. I hate to throw them away. Instead, I collect them in handfuls and toss them out the back door like wedding rice. They remain tissue soft and stained with cotton candy colors when they hit my stone patio. Sometimes I wait and watch a breeze take them on a bouncy trip across the lawn. Most times, it's enough to send them gently into the summer air and walk away.