Romance is all about passion – for another human being, for life and for the great possibilities we all share. Stephanie Browning is the channel for both Anne’s and my personal passions, the ones that grow from unique experiences and pleasurable research. In Outbid by the Boss Anne’s love of antique silver takes centre stage. But one of my consuming passions, gardening and roses, helps create the mood and the history of Porter Hall.
Beds of old roses in desperate need of a good pruning defined the formal flagstone terrace. Their current neglect was a sad reflection of just how unhappy a house Porter Hall had become.
Some of my earliest memories include my father’s roses – the peace rose that was developed about the time his brothers and friends returned from the great war; the scarlet climber that created a vibrant spot of beauty against the bricks of my home; the fragrance that floated on the air while I climbed trees, made forts and quarreled with my brother. The scent of roses lies against the memories of my childhood. One sniff and I remember it all. Shortly after my father died, I planted my first rose. With every move (and there were a lot of them) my collection grew. Just as Anne brought her knowledge of antiques to Outbid by the Boss, it was natural for me to turn to roses to evoke memory and deep affection.
The housekeeper set her cup down. “It was Eugenie Porter, Chas’ grandmother, who designed the beds and raised roses. Visitors used to come just to tour the gardens and look at the roses. A few were quite rare – she collected them from old gardens as the cities sprawled out and ate them up.”
The idea for this snippet came from an article about a group of women in the Deep South who scour old plantations, abandoned country homes, and near-forgotten graveyards for heritage roses that might otherwise be lost.
“My grandmother,” Sam stammered. As she leaned over to touch the rose’s soft leaves, the poignancy of the fragrance to come filled her eyes with tears. “On Sundays,” she paused to clear her throat, “we would take the streetcar to whichever rose garden was open to the public.” Memories of her grandmother walking up and down the gravel paths clouded her thoughts. “Gran would stop to name the variety of every rose we passed and tell me its history until I could recite it back to her. Including….this one.”
Anne and I have both strolled English gardens that feature glorious roses set in wonderful plantings. From the War of the Roses to every English country and most city gardens, there are few things more British than the rose.
While visiting my daughter in England this summer, part of our sightseeing took us to formal rose gardens at Queen Victoria’s summer home on the Isle of Wight, tea beside the knot gardens at Edith Nesbitt’s mansion near London, and running after grandsons on the grounds of an English Heritage Tudor palace, with the scent of roses all around. It’s not difficult to picture Stephanie Browning, our alter ego, in the gardens of Porter Hall gathering an armful of the most fragrant blooms and carrying them into her world of romance.