The Scent of Cinnamon Roses

by Tina Rapp

I bought my first home at 26, romantic, wide-eyed, and ridiculously ecstatic. My husband and I had looked for months for a place in the rapidly gentrifying farmlands around Nashua, New Hampshire, 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. A spring stream gushed through the basement, resident porcupines munched on our barn sills, and a rutted, one-lane dirt road sharpened my driving skills during mud season.

Not all of the surprises were unhappy ones. We bought the 1830s cape with its three-story shingled barn built into a sloping hillside in November and moved in January, so we had no idea that it was home to riotous perennials. They started cropping up in April like small sentinels. I didn’t know 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 though, 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.

The growth flourished everywhere. There was a flower bed beyond the breezeway filled with tiger lilies, black-eyed Susan, and daylilies in lemon and burnt orange. Our front garden pivoted on purples, pinks, and whites with phlox, irises, rose campion, and daisies. The snowy hydrangea and lilac bushes occupied large swaths all their own.

Wild Roses
Photograph by Tina Rapp

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 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 buds 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 blooms 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 luscious rose blossoms.

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 the last week of June, I was surprised by four curving strands of wild roses within sniffing distance of my screen porch. I found myself gathering rose blooms again and filling small vases: one for the kitchen, one for the dining room, one for my bedroom.

I noticed, this time, when the petals curled up and started their hasty decay, their fragrance deepened with a final intense push. I picked the rumpled petals off all the surfaces they touched: tabletops and dressers and floors. I hated to throw them away. Instead, I collected them in handfuls and tossed them out the back door like wedding rice. They were still tissue soft and stained with cotton candy colors when they hit my stone patio. Sometimes I waited to watch a breeze take them on a rambling trip across the lawn. Most times, it was enough to send them gently into the summer air and walk away.