A few years ago I saw on the news a short interview with Abu Ward, who was the only person in devastated Aleppo to grow flowers among the ruins of his city. His passionate belief was that even among the terror of bombing, dirt, dust and utter misery of people trapped there, he could with his “small oasis of colour and life” lift people’s spirits by offering flowers which could brighten their lives. He said: “There is no greater beauty than flowers. The essence of the world is a flower, its colour, its smell, its ability to inspire.” His nickname was “The Father of the Roses.”
As the war in Syria is just smouldering among the ruins, perhaps the end will bring some hope to those who are left alive. To rebuild the country will take much, much longer. I often wonder what happened to Ibrahim, Abu Ward’s young son, who helped him in the little garden, that is now closed.
Stephen Hancock, the author of Syzygy, wrote a moving and beautiful poem dedicated to Abu Ward’s memory:
The Gardener of Aleppo
For Ibrahim, son of Abu Ward
Oh, my beautiful boy
my heart quietly sang
every time you filled
your watering can
and overflowed with joy
No prouder father
has this city ever known
for in our bones
we both knew
what we were risking
For this is the garden’s song
I heard each and every dawn:
Today a seed must give its life
for beauty to be born
Here, my son
Here, my son
And here, my son
my open heart
May it bloom within your broken heart
and upon this broken land.
I am going to write to a top rose grower to ask (beg, more likely) them to consider naming one of their new roses Abu Ward to honour the memory of this unusual and noble man. If you are interested in joining this campaign, please contact me at my email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story is poignant because it reflects how wide is the gap between today’s technology-obsessed society and thousand-year-old human emotions. No matter how many centuries separate us from the past, nothing has changed where our emotions are concerned; we get angry, violent or needy, lonely or depressed, to mention just a few, in the same way as our ancestors did. Equally the beauty of nature, flowers, in particular, has a great impact on our wellbeing.
For thousands of years, all over the world, people’s lives were enriched by flowers, ‘the essence of the world’. From ancient Egyptians and ancient China (lotus, water lilies), to medieval and renaissance Italian lush gardens, through rose-filled Tudor times, the Victorian and Edwardian cottage gardens, to our present famous Chelsea Flower Show, flowers were praised in various ways by poets, painters, and composers.
The flower that inspired most is the incomparable, gloriously scented – The Rose. The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote:
“O my luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June.
On stem of thorny peril
Almost regal in their pose
Hung with sweetness
The scent of an English rose.”
William Shakespeare praised roses in his sonnets ( ‘..roses do not die alone..’), and over centuries, painters tried in vain to show the sublime beauty of a rose.
My own love of roses was initiated when, as a child, I read the book The Secret Garden. Just like young Mary I wanted to grow ‘climbing roses that had run all over the trees, and swung down long tendrils which made light swaying curtains, and here and there they had caught at each other or at a far-reaching branch and had crept from one tree to another and made lovely bridges of themselves’. I let my roses go wild, especially ramblers, and as I have grown them from young saplings, now that they are huge, I smile with happy satisfaction, for they are mine.
During spring roses flower profusely from May, and then through all summer until December, if the weather is mild. Every day I look at the blooms in admiration of their beauty, and their intoxicating perfume adds to the magic of being in my own world of nature.
And here are some more of my roses to lift your spirits and make you smile at their beauty.
I leave with these wise words of Liberty Hyde Bailey:
“A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plant do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfil good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.”
All the pictures of my garden and of my roses were taken by a young photographer Violetta Rybak.