“Starting jar roses takes balls. Do you have balls, Maria?” I say to my friend over the phone.
“Well, yeah,” she starts, sounding uneasy.
“Okay, then change into all black and come right over,” I tell her.
I gather up a reusable grocery bag, work gloves, and scissors, zip up my blue hoody, and take a seat on the front porch to wait for her.
The geraniums are still in their pots flanking the front steps, barely hanging on as the temperature falls, a notch each night; the scooters and skateboards are still leaned up by the front door, though the boys have been back in school for nearly two months.
Maria pulls up in her little silver Toyota, and so often a literalist, is dressed in black from head to toe, her blond curls peeking out from beneath a black Mickey Mouse ball cap. She doesn’t exactly look like a criminal, or even very sneaky for that matter, as she approaches the porch in long strides, kitchen scissors in hand.
“Will these work?” she asks with doubt in her voice, not just about the scissors, but about the whole enterprise we are about to embark on.
“Oh, yes, that is all you will need,” I answer, trying to sound like a criminal mastermind.
I’ve been talking to Maria about starting her own jar roses for at least two years (a rose propagation technique my grandmother shared with me), but each year we miss our window of opportunity to start them together; this is a trick that needs to be taught, not written out. The cutting and planting has to happen on the same day, so, depending on how many Maria wants to plant we have to block out a good chunk of time for the project.
We hit a nearby park first. I’ve obtained permission to clip the necessary 12” segments I want from a few of the rosebushes here, but since Maria seems pumped about breaking some rules I don’t mention that we’re legal. This particular park has some of the finest roses around and I have cloned several of the bushes in other years. We each take about six clippings, do some ninja rolls back to the car, and head to our next stop—Burger King.
Since June I’ve had my eye on what I think is a Tropicana rose, one of the most brilliant orange roses I’ve ever seen. In the game of jar roses you can’t make your move very much before the first frost, so I’ve had to bide my time. Just as I’m poised to clip my 12” segment Maria says, “Wait! Shouldn’t we buy something first?”
I holster my scissors and we head in for some orange juice and mini cinnamon rolls. Ten minutes later, satisfied, and a little less guilt-ridden, we take what we’ve come for.
We add our Tropicana clippings to our bags that already hold some Carefree Sunshines, Nearly Wilds, and Magic Blankets. “You can plant as many roses as you have jars and time,” I tell her as she speeds to our next stop through the late morning traffic of our Kansas City suburb. “I started ten one year and nine survived the winter, though my greatest achievement, I must say, was last year when I started sixteen Knock-Outs for an older couple at church and they all survived,” I brag, drawing out the last few words and nodding smugly.
So far this morning we’ve gone unchallenged. Maria hops out of the car at the next park with a bit of a swagger now that she has some clippings under her belt, and tucks her scissors into her waistband. This park is bigger than the first one and just off a busy road, so I’m a little edgy about who we might encounter. I look around nervously, but she’s revving high and lets out an uncharacteristically loud laugh, which startles me. I turn to shush her but she’s disappeared.
I spot the top of her head near the Toyota’s headlights and whirl around to see a park ranger across the asphalt lot. I lunge to get back in her car but she’s already locked the doors so I shuffle around the front and crouch down next to her. “Why didn’t you say something?” I whisper frantically at her.
“I just saw him; I didn’t have time,” she says, her eyes huge. “Do you think he knows what we’re here for?” That is unlikely.
I rise slowly and see the ranger driving toward us in his golf cart. I stand and try to look casual, a bag full of roses over my arm, large kitchen shears hanging from my gloved fingers, my friend dressed in black kneeling on the pavement at my feet.
“Anne, what are you doing? Get down! Are you crazy? He’ll see you!” she squeaks loudly at me as the ranger rounds the end of her car. She gets to her feet. “Good morning, ociffer,” she says, brushing dirt from her knees.
Great, now he’ll think we’re drunk, too.
He gives us a once over then checks out the PTA sticker in her rear window and the boosters in her back seat. “Good morning, ladies,” he says, not moving from his cushioned seat. He glances at our scissors one last time, begins to say something, then turns his cart around and drives down the garden path.
We’ve left ourselves wide open to stereotype, just not the kind that concerns a lawman.
We split up, urgency in our movements now, and frantically scamper through the couple dozen rows of roses. “Maria! This one makes tiny pink pom-poms—do you want one?” I call to her in the loudest voice I dare. She’s found a pale pink rose edged in red, which she holds up questioningly. I nod at her that I’d like a clipping too.
An old lady creeps up from the parking area. A younger woman is milling around near the tree line and I wonder how I hadn’t noticed her a moment ago. A jogger flies up from the street. We’re surrounded.
“Hey! How many do you have,” I say, returning to a stage whisper. She holds up six fingers and mouths, “Let’s go!” Her eyes look crazed, darting from me to the other park-goers.
We hustle back through the rows toward her car but must pass the old lady.
“Just what are you two girls doing?” the old woman asks in an accusatory tone.
Maria and I make eye contact and I know she’s wondering what I’m wondering: bolt for the car or take a minute to explain?
It’s up to me. This was my idea. “Umm, we’re gathering clippings of roses to start new bushes at our houses,” I nervously tell her, knowing it sounds ridiculous.
“Well, now how do you expect to do that?” she asks, scowling.
“Uhh, you see, well, you cut a 12” segment from a rose you would like in your yard, then take a trowel and poke a hole in the ground 6-8 inches deep, stick the cutting in, pack down the dirt, pop an old pickle jar over it, then wait till April to see what you get.”
The old lady laughs and shakes her head. “Interesting,” she says. “Does it really work?”
“Usually, but only if you start them as close as you can to the first frost, and remember to uncover them as soon as you think the last frost has happened—they’ll cook if you forget them after that.” I wait while she looks us over.
“Huh. I just might try that,” she says and turns away, clearly musing as she heads into the rows of roses.
“That was too close,” Maria said as we get back into her car. But I could tell she loved the rush.