Writing about hearts – and now roses

by Carolyn Thomas

Regular Heart Sisters blog readers may have recently noticed that the Sunday morning blog posts I’ve been publishing here since 2009 have slowed down.  Well, not just slowed. They’ve stopped. With spring in the air and my new balcony rose garden on my mind, I’m taking a summer break from writing about women’s hearts. Instead, I’m pulling on my gardening gloves and exploring my latest infatuation: is it possible to grow roses in pots out on a balcony?          

And like many writers, the urge to document my summer adventure has turned into a little blog. It’s called The Novice Rose Gardener.  For quite a while, I’ve felt the need to write about the things in life that bring me PURE JOY.  In the final paragraphs of my last published blog post here, for example, I hinted that I needed a wee break to do just that. Although I’ve been an avid gardener here on the west coast for decades, I’ve never been tempted to grow roses – however lovely the photo on the rose tag may be – mostly because of their nasty reputation: high maintenance, short blooming season, black spot, powdery mildew, aphids.  No thanks!

But – something wonderful happened last summer.        .    

Back then, my favourite son Ben and I were out on his back deck with the adorable Baby Zack one afternoon, chatting about his rooftop-high climbing white rose that was NOT what rose-growers call “well behaved”.  (Zack did not seem remotely interested in this topic, so promptly fell asleep on my lap). That white climber had a showy explosion of nice enough blooms in June (peak rose season), but after that, it was covered with brown fading blossoms and mildewy leaves for six months, ones that refused to fall gracefully to the soil like well-behaved roses do – yet were much too tall to tidy up with pruning shears. Ben picked up his phone to Google a possible replacement climber – and that’s when we discovered Russell Nursery’s pre-order rose catalogue.

From that detailed full-colour catalogue last summer, we learned about new kinds of roses.

These are newer roses that “pay their rent” – in other words, they are essentially care-free, disease/pest-resistant, no-spray, fragrant, repeat bloomers from early summer to frost – and (unlike the fussy roses my mother grew when I was a little girl on Pleasant Avenue) very well behaved.

Ben and I were both smitten!  For days, we discussed our best possible choices in the catalogue, starting with our rose wish lists. Then we pre-ordered a bunch of bare-root plants that would be ready for us to pick up from the nursery in March, and we waited for winter to pass.

March is now here! And we’ve just picked up our new bare root rosebushes! This is a new adventure for both of us. (We’re not expecting much help from Baby Zack at this time, as he’s already pretty busy crawling, napping, eating, pooping). Meanwhile, Ben and I are learning about roses as we go, and I’ve started slowly documenting and photographing our progress.

I suspect that other would-be rose gardeners like us may have also avoided roses because of the common problems that misbehaving roses have long been known for, and because they, like us, didn’t know about the countless kinds of newer roses that are not fussy at all.

One lesson I’ve already learned is that if you do own a misbehaving, disease-prone, aphid-covered rose bush that no longer brings you any joy, just dig it out. Replace it with something more suited to your wish list and to your surrounding environment.

Ben’s wish list, for example, included “must be fragrant” as a rose requirement. (If, by the way, you wonder why roses in flower shops rarely smell as good as roses should, you’ll like this explanation in The Demise of Scented Roses:  “Many commercial rose breeders have bred their rose varieties for appearance, durability or vase life rather than their smell. As a result, the scent of roses has become something of an afterthought and many rose varieties, especially those bred for the cut flower market, have lost their scent altogether.”)

Having a clearly defined wish list for a new rose garden helps to narrow down potential garden choices right off the bat. That filter also applies to any other plant ( or relationship!) that’s been limping along for years while clearly unhappy.

Especially during stressful times like these, gardens are a place of beauty, refuge and renewal, and should contain no sickly plants that suck the life right out of you every time you see them. Until now, I would have included roses in that description. But not anymore! A friend once decided to dig up some of her garden plants that weren’t growing well and move them to a tucked-away area of her garden that she called her “infirmary”  (a dappled-sun unused patch of soil around the side of her house). After a couple of summers, however, she was surprised to see that some of her most sickly plants there had actually perked up and flourished in their new home.

Meanwhile, please don’t worry, dear reader:  all 900+ Heart Sisters blog posts will still be available every day (just click The Topics on the right hand sidebar to narrow down the heart-related subject you’re interested in).

And I’ll likely be popping back to Heart Sisters once our rose-filled summer is over.

Just thinking about my newly planted balcony garden makes me feel so happy, and reminds me to s-l-o-w down – and smell the roses. . . ♥


Q:  If you’ve ever been a rose grower, what are some of your favourite roses?

JULY UPDATE:   They’re in bloom!!  All four of my new Drift roses out on my balcony (groundcover roses typically used by landscapers along highways) are finally in bloom this week – and all at the same time! It’s been an unseasonably cool damp spring/early summer here on the west coast (May for example had only seven days of sun!) so all gardens, including my balcony roses, seem far slower to bloom this year – and more troubled by rose fungus.   Here’s what they look like so far:

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:  Do you know a woman who has recently (surprise!) become a heart patient?  Consider gifting her a copy of my book A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease“ (which reads like the “Best Of Heart Sisters”  blog archives). You can ask for it at bookstores (please support your local independent bookseller!) or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon – or order it directly from my publisher Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).


See also:  Balcony roses: my late summer review

                                                                              My balcony roses at sunrise

24 thoughts on “Writing about hearts – and now roses

    1. Hello Pauline – thank you for your kind words. I’ve been taking a summer break from writing about hearts to focus on my balcony rose experiment outside, enjoying more time with my darling grandkids, while trying to cope with the heat (!)

      Take care, stay safe and keep up the good work spreading the word about women’s heart health…. ♥


  1. My favorite roses are any that have the most beautiful smell! I don’t care the color, I just like to breathe deep and the scent is heavenly to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Paula! There’s simply no fragrance as intoxicatingly beautiful as the distinctive scent of roses. In fact, when we lean over to sniff a particularly lovely rose in bloom, isn’t it always a disappointment to say: “Oh. Not really much of a smell…” !?

      Take care, stay safe. . . . ♥


  2. I was so happy to have recently found your blog and your book. Enjoy your time off, and I will enjoy reading all the wonderful posts you have written in the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Michelle – I’m happy you took the time to write this kind note, and especially happy that you found my blog and my book helpful.

      Good luck to you- take care and stay safe out there. . . ♥


    1. Thank you so much, Susan – while waiting for my return to writing about heart stuff, remember that you can still find hundreds of articles here written since 2009 on all aspects of cardiac diagnoses in women. They’re not going anywhere. You could spend the whole summer browsing topics – and still not read all of them!

      Take care, and stay safe. . . ♥


  3. Thank you, Carolyn, for writing your blog for all these years! It has helped me immensely (I actually discovered it in the hospital after my heart attack in CCU awaiting my stent procedure).

    I have referred many people to it – you have performed an invaluable service and now it is time to focus on growing your roses. Maybe you will inspire others to do so as well! My mother was a great rose grower and did fuss over her tea roses for years. She would love that some that need a little less attention are available!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Chris – what a sweet note. . . You were exactly the kind of new heart patient I’d always hoped would find my blog in very early days post-diagnosis. And such perfect timing (actually between your heart attack and your trip to the cath lab for your stent!)

      I too have very fond memories of my own mother’s lovely tea roses (although I recall that she did grumble A LOT about all the ‘fussing’ she had to do to manage them and the ongoing disappointment with each new blighted leaf!) I’m hoping that my new balcony roses will become the best of both worlds: the fragrance and beauty of the older roses of our mothers, but the easier maintenance of modern hybridizers!

      Take care, and stay safe. . . ♥


  4. Thank you for all the blogs you have written and the precious information you have shared.

    Also, thank you for being a personal example of how important it is to find JOY in life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Like you I have tried to share with as many women as I could the difference between women’s heart disease and men’s.

    However, 8 weeks ago today I lost my husband to Chronic Arterial Disease. He was just a few days from 81. We were together for 54 years and married 52.

    I now write daily blogs of being a widow and only how it affects me and scares the hell out of me with my heart supporting 7 stents for almost 6 years from my myocardial infarction.

    I love reading your posts as I was a nurse for 25 years, went back to the University, starting from scratch to become an elementary school teacher.

    We raised a family of five and many a day I believe I will return to teaching. Thank you for sharing your precious story of being a gardener. It’s a feel-good story, and for me a joy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Teula. I’m so sorry for your tragic loss. After all those years together, your husband was a profoundly important part of your own adult history. I can imagine that your daily blogs are now like therapy for you as you navigate these sad and scary days.

      I’ve always admired people like you (a nurse-turned-teacher, for example) who have done a big mid-career shift to something completely different. It’s such a brave decision. I hope that your proven skills in successfully getting through that challenging transition will help you once again during these new changes.

      Take care, and please stay safe out there. . . ♥


  6. Good for you – enjoy! And I’m with Ben – roses must be scented. My mom was a rose gardener. She bought Canada’s Centennial Rose in 1967. I seem to remember it was both scented and pretty hardy. It might have been one of the first disease-/aphid- resistant varieties. It was an unusual salmon pink. You might like to try that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Deborah – thanks for that tip about your mother’s favourite rose (I’m going to go look that one up!) I too agree with Ben about the importance of fragrance in a rose. When we pass gorgeous roses in bloom, it’s common to lean in to check for a scent – if they don’t smell as beautiful as they look, we’re inevitably disappointed.

      And salmon-pink is indeed a beautiful colour for roses!

      Take care, stay safe. . . ♥


    2. PS Hi again Deborah – as mentioned, I looked up your mother’s rose and found an interesting local connection to our Victoria home.

      Turns out that there was a bit of an international ‘war of the roses’ in that decision to name an official rose in honour of Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967. Apparently, no Canadian-bred roses were in the running for this named tribute, so the official committee of rose experts went with the “Canadian Centennial” rose developed by U.S. growers. But local Canadian rose nurserymen objected. Their own pick was a rose cultivar called “Miss Canada”, hybridized here in Victoria by an amateur rose hybridizer named Fred Blakeney, what he described as “the greatest hybridizing thrill of my life.” Controversy followed on both sides, but ultimately a compromise: there would be two ‘official’ Centennial roses, BUT the committee, led by Jack McIntyre, made some headline-grabbing PR moves (e.g. he sent 500 ‘Canadian Centennial’ roses in March 1966 to be planted in the Buckingham Palace gardens). Drama and intrigue in the rose world!


    1. Thank you Jill! I’m having a surprisingly fun time simply planning and anticipating a full revamp of my balcony this summer! I’ve just been reading, for example, about ‘Flower Carpet’ groundcover roses that apparently make terrific hanging basket plants, so I’m now studying which ones to order for my two empty baskets this year.

      Take care, and stay safe. . . ♥


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