The Day of the Rose

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Maeve and I both loved any excuse for a celebration, so of course this 65th birthday had to be joyfully marked.

After breakfast, there were cards and presents: Maeve gave me a stylish shirt and a book of poetry, and read me a jokey verse she’d written – a personal tradition we both kept at any festivity.

Rosa Gordon Snell“This isn’t your main present,” she said. “That will be here in a few weeks time. I’ve got you a rose.”

“Lovely,” I said. She knew it was my favourite flower, so I thanked her warmly – but she realised I was a bit mystified about the delay.

Later that morning she explained the reason. “It’s not just any old rose, you know – it’s named after YOU. It’s called ROSA GORDON SNELL.”

I couldn’t find any words to say. I just sat down with the shock, and gulped tearfully.

“It’s true,” she said. “I knew you’d find it hard to believe, so I rang Colin Dickson who grew it in his nursery in Newtownards. He asked if you’d been pleased with the rose. ‘Not pleased enough,’ I told him. ‘Could you send him a fax to tell him it’s really a rose with his name?’”

Rosa Gordon Snell

She showed me the letter from Colin.

“I don’t deserve it,” I said.

“Yes, you do,” she said, and went on to tell me how she got the idea two years ago, and after long discussions with the Rose Society and then with Colin, she settled on a yellow rose he was creating. It was like some kind of spy thriller plot – all communications went to and fro via Maeve’s sister Joan. The Cone of Silence was rigorously kept in place, and I had no inkling at all of what was being planned.

After the birthday there were more celebrations. We went to visit Colin Dickson’s nursery and admired the large and splendid rows of roses – among them, nearly ready, the Rosa Gordon Snell. There I was, about to join that prestigious cast that includes such names as Elizabeth Taylor, Empress Josephine and Lord Byron.

Colin planned to launch the rose at his stand at the Chelsea Flower Show, so Maeve decided we must have another big celebration, and bring the actual Gordon Snell over to meet his namesake.

Rosa Gordon Snell, grown by Colin Dickson

Rosa Gordon Snell, grown by Colin Dickson

So a group of family and friends gathered at the Show for the occasion, where we had speeches and champagne on the site, and then a lavish dinner in the aptly named local restaurant The Chelsea Gardener, where Maeve’s publishers Orion produced a special cake featuring a design in icing of books and roses.

Opening of the newly refurbished library dedicated to Maeve Binchy at Holy Child School in KillineySo now in gardens scattered in various lands, the Rosa Gordon Snell flourishes, sturdy and beautiful – perhaps basking, like its human original, in glorious memories of one of the most fond and amazing birthday gifts ever given. Thank you, dear Maeve!

Gordon Snell