Floral connections

Janice Wells
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According to Wikipedia, six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.

It was originally set out by Frigyes Karinthy and popularized by a play written by John Guare.

Of course Frigyes Karinth had probably never been to Newfoundland. It’s always been my contention that in Newfoundland it’s one degree of separation. I defy you to talk to any fellow Newfoundlander, whether you’re from Pass Island or Change Island, Joe Batt’s Arm or Nicky’s Nose, and not be able to find a mutual acquaintance, if not a relative.

I think it may be a bit different with the third of fourth generation Townie crowd. Let’s give them two degrees of separation from the distant coasts, just to be generous. If only we could connect our heritage plants the same way.

I was delighted to get an email from somebody who initially had no idea she knew my sister and her in-laws. Naturally, a place name usually does it and as soon as she said Placentia, I was on the phone to Brother-in-Law and, of course, he knew them.

Sandra wrote, “I read with delight your article on the lovely rose hedge in Gooseberry Cove. The vision for and planting of (the hedge) was my dad’s, Bill Patterson of Placentia. Dad passed away a little more than four years ago. The garden was his labour of love. When my parents bought that land and built our cabin in the 60s, there were no roses — basically a big field with lots of tall grass and boulders. It needed work. Dad started introducing the roses in the 80s. The roses in Gooseberry Cove were transplanted from his childhood home at the Blockhouse in Placentia. His mother loved her garden, too.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know the proper name — I know them as old English roses. Many are of the double variety and bloom consistently throughout the summer. Some are single and we also have a few old whites. Many do reach over seven feet. They are rather prolific and try to take over the garden and do choke an occasional spruce (also planted by dad) but, other than that they are incredible as is the cove itself.

“I don’t know if I should share this next part; I wouldn’t want her to be inundated, but it is so evocative of the spirit of this garden; generations of people and plants, that I must.

“If you are interested in having some roses for the hedge in Heart’s Content that you referenced, you are most welcome to contact me and arrange to visit when I’m there. As a hobby gardener, I’d be delighted to share some roses with someone who has an interest in them. As well, I’m sure my mom would love to tell you stories of dad’s love of the garden. The cold days of winter have provided great inspiration for summer projects for the Gooseberry garden!”

Roses from this woman’s grandmother’s house in Blockhouse … where did they come from? Probably France and possibly as long ago as the 1600s when then Plaisance was founded as a permanent French settlement. Could an early governor’s young wife have been determined to create a little bit of home in Le Terre Neuve? They may have come later, when the English took over the town, but one thing is for sure, they were brought here by people who loved them, and have been shared for generations since.

I find myself wanting to know where her grandmother came from and cannot wait to introduce offspring from such venerable (and romantic) heritage roses to Heart’s Content.

Of course they could be already in gardens there. Few communities in Newfoundland are without some old heritage plants, carefully planted by brave and optimistic settlers who needed to feed their spirits as much as their bellies.

My apologies to Liz Klose for the misspelling of her name last week.


Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. Her latest book, “Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Musts,” was published in October 2010 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. You can reach her at janicew@nf.sympatico.ca. Note to readers: please do not send thumbnail-size

photographs, as they are too small to publish.

Organizations: MacIntyre Purcell Publishing

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Placentia, Pass Island Change Island France Plaisance Le Terre Neuve

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