Hilda Rose and Mary Rose Stratton were the stuff of legend. It didn’t take much, to recall their preserves. Their wines especially, distilled tall tales of country gentry, including the vicar on his horse, after a glass or two of The Sister’s brew.
When Megan and Andrew rediscovered Rosemead, mouldering behind a jungle of brambles, lantana and overgrown cedars in Baxter’s back paddock, it caused quite a stir.
“It’s beyond redemption,” Jacob Baxter insisted, when the couple offered to buy it.
“Just wait, by spring it’ll be a treat,” said his brother Jack, when they signed the property over.
The newlyweds, shielded by an idyllic haze, rejected a honeymoon so they could start renovating.
Set on an acre the rambling old Victorian had seen better days, a deep veranda trimmed with iron lace rusted beyond recognition. A leaky roof meant damp and mildew had chewed away at ornate plasterwork. The bluestone walls were mostly sound which was a blessing. Their romantic bubble soon burst when the couple realised the enormous task ahead of them, but their first big row was over the garden.
“I don’t want this dragging on; by next spring this will be finished, right?” Andrew asserted. “We’ll torch the garden and start again.”
“No!” Megan was adamant. Rosemead’s garden had been bountiful, she hoped given the right care and attention it would re emerge again.
“Look Megan there’s enough to do in the house,”
“Andrew Truscott you touch that garden and I will never speak to you again.”
They made up, but more arguments followed. In spite of plastic sheeting, dusty grit followed them everywhere, contaminated everything, clothes, hair,dishes, food. It even seemed to infect their relationship.
Oppressive heat of summer slowed progress. Plagued by rusty water, antique plumbing, obsolete wiring; every time they started a new job they found a dozen more. Costs grew, tempers frayed and silences deepened.
Megan privately wept; she worried they may not reach their first anniversary. The days developed an exhausting rhythm, every minute not at work was spent on the house.
Even fellowship at church suffered.
Family and friends offered to help but Andrew stubbornly claimed the renovations as his responsibility, when a conference took him away for a week Megan saw an opportunity. She rallied everyone to tackle the garden head on.
Respecting her wishes they worked carefully and beneath weedy tangles, lost in overgrown cedars they found a dormant orchard and remnants of a colonial garden.
“Won’t be much of it is still alive,” Jacob had said.
“Just wait, by spring it’ll look a treat.” offered Jack.
If Andrew was surprised he hid it well. Undaunted Megan visited the garden regularly, clipped and snipped hoping it would show itself. Between coats of paint in the house she’d wander out, finding the perfect place to talk to God. She prayed for many things but mostly their marriage, which seemed as dead as the twigs and branches around her.
The end of summer brought thunderstorms but little rain, at the end of autumn they discovered the underground cool room and laughed like children together. That night gentle, dust-settling rain fell.
As winter developed it rained more.
“Doesn’t mean the dry is over,” Jacob declared
“Just wait til spring; it’ll be just fine by then” Jack affirmed.
Sure enough spring rains did not fail that year; soon water tanks were full. In spite of Andrew’s assertion the house was not finished but showed signs of promise at last.
On their anniversary eve Andrew came home to a note,
'Dinner is served in the garden,' it read, 'just follow the light'
A path of candles, flickering in the pale sunset, led through the cedars to a garden he had not seen before. Green and white snowflakes lined a cobbled path to an orchard of gnarled trees, some blossoming pink and white. Daffodils and lilies nodded among clumps of woody stems green with new growth. An old hip bath held fresh mint, surrounded by woody sage, rosemary and bergamot. Rosebushes sported coppery foliage and buds. Nearby Megan knelt upon a blanket, with plump pillows and picnic basket.
As she poured a drink she spoke of old colonial roses, five crown apples, greengages and an ancient walnut tree.
“What’s this,” he asked cautiously?
“The sister’s elderflower champagne, I found all their old recipes lining the shelves in the cold room.” Megan explained. “Don’t worry this one is completely safe! To the sister’s,” she offered as a toast.
“To Hope,” Andrew corrected.”
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