In the tranquil idyll of the rose arbour, unexpected things can blossom…
Peering through the kitchen window of her aunt’s cottage, Anna murmured, “I don’t mean to alarm you, Kitty – but there’s a stranger at the bottom of your garden.”
Kitty joined Anna at the window, relaxing when she saw a man in braces and cap fussing over rosebushes by the brick wall that bordered her back garden.
“Oh, that’s Isaac Bradder, from down the road. He looks after my arbour for me.”
Seeing Anna’s relief, Kitty chuckled. “What, were you imagining you’d walked into Midsomer Murders?”
“Well, those shears he’s wielding do look rather fierce.”
“The only thing this place has in common with Midsomer is the sleepy village setting. It’s so quiet here, in fact, that I’m afraid you’ll be bored.”
“With you around? Never!” Turning to give her aunt a heartfelt hug, Anna’s eyes clouded as she added, “And quiet is what the doctor ordered, remember?”
“Umm.” Kitty busied herself arranging a tea-tray, so Anna didn’t see her frown. “Your former partner has a lot to answer for, cheating you like that when you were ill.”
“Josh wasn’t the only reason I was unhappy. And I shouldn’t have let my life get to such a stage in the first place.”
“Well, we all make mistakes,” Kitty reasoned. “A break from the big city may be just what you need to bring the bloom back into your cheeks.
“Speaking of blooms, the garden’s at its best just now. I want you to enjoy it, darling – if you can help with the weeding, so much the better.”
Anna looked doubtful.
“I’m not so sure about that. I’ve never really had green fingers.”
Kitty touched the crease between Anna’s brows.
“Perhaps not. But now might be the perfect time to find them.”
The birds woke Anna at dawn next morning. She lay for a while, listening to unfamiliar countryside sounds, and sighed.
Kitty’s cottage, like the woman herself, had a tangible comforting presence – exactly what she’d been in need of.
She dressed and padded downstairs to the kitchen to make tea, then stood, mug in hand, at the back door and considered the view.
The new day promised blue sky and blessed sunshine but still, there was a cloud on Anna’s horizon. How had life become so complicated?
Not long ago, she’d been riding a wave of success. Life was hectic, sometimes hard to keep up with.
But building an up-and-coming fundraising business with her boyfriend made the long hours less of a sacrifice.
Or so she’d thought, until exhaustion and a bad bout of ‘flu confined her to her bed, with suddenly too much time to wonder what that niggling worry at the back of her mind actually was.
Before she could work it out, Josh had left her for their pretty new associate – taking all their most lucrative business clients too.
Anna knew she was better off when she was more upset by the thought of all that wasted time and effort than the loss of her supposed happy-ever-after.
Now she was here in Kitty’s loving embrace, looking for… what, exactly? An escape? A new direction? Or simply her smile?
She let her eyes roam over the ramshackle mix of shrubberies and borders winding up to the tangled rose arbour.
Having never had a garden of her own, she’d so far shown little interest in Rose Cottage’s exterior. But now it seemed completely natural to slip on a pair of mules and venture out onto the daisy-studded lawn.
She stood, soaking up the dew-laden silence and watching the leaves of a gnarled apple tree ruffling gently in the breeze. Then she wandered with unhurried step past honeysuckle, a lilac bush and what was once a chicken coop, where wildflowers had taken up residence in place of hens.
Holding her breath, she peeped into a greenhouse shrouded in expectant silence, as if it were only waiting for the moment when hands would once again take up gloves and trowel and fill the discarded trays with seeds and soil.
She had the strangest feeling of clocks slowing to a standstill, a comforting cloak of tranquillity settling round her shoulders.
Reluctantly she withdrew to continue exploring.
Blowsy flowerbeds lined each side of winding pathways and in the corner stood a tiny summerhouse, the tall white foxgloves on sentry duty by the door.
She’d reached the prettiest part of the garden now. For here, through a leaf-entwined archway, roses ruled in plump profusion, a riot of colour and scent. Though their perfume already fragranced the air, Anna couldn’t resist stooping to bury her nose in a few blooms.
A rustic bench leaned invitingly against the wall; she sank onto it and studied the roses.
There were different types – some smooth, some ragged, others climbing, but all intertwined like something out of a fairytale.
Yes, that was it – it felt like being cocooned within a secret wall of fabled thorns. And suddenly, a memory flashed into her mind; her childhood self playing in this very arbour, the Sleeping Beauty pitting her wits against the wicked queen…
She woke to the sound of a throat being cleared, to find her tea gone cold and Isaac Bradder peering anxiously at her from beneath the shadows of a soft peaked cap.
“Are you all right?”
Anna nodded, blinking her eyes to dispel sleep.
“Just fallen under a spell, I think.”
Isaac Bradder was still studying her.
“You look pale,” he said at last.
Anna’s dreaminess faded.
“I’ve been ill.”
“Working out here will do wonders for that. ‘You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt’.”
“Could you teach me?” Anna heard herself ask. “How to garden, I mean?”
Mr Bradder considered for another long moment then removing his cap, gestured beyond the arbour.
“Wisteria needs pruning. We’ll start with that.”
It had been a long day and yet, oddly satisfying. Anna relaxed back into Kitty’s fireside armchair and let the warmth of the cosy, cluttered parlour wrap her in its embrace as with quiet pride, she examined her scuffed hands.
Who would have thought there’d be some green in her fingers, after all?
She sat, her only company the steady tick of the clock, until Kitty bustled in with what she thought was a tea-tray.
“Not quite,” Kitty corrected. “You’ll have noticed all the herbs outside and on the windowsills; well, that’s where most of my income’s from these days.
“I make herbal teas and tinctures, the odd salve or two. Kitty-Witch, they call me round here. Cute, isn’t it?”
“A white witch, eh? I might have known.”
Anna eyed the steaming pot with slight misgivings. “What’s that?”
“A special brew just for you, my darling. A mix of secret herbs to soothe your soul and set you back on the right road again.”
Kitty had knelt in front of Anna as she spoke, and now inhaled the fragrant steam.
“I think it’s ready.” She closed her eyes and muttered something under her breath before pouring the brew into two bowls and passing one to Anna.
“Drink up,” she urged. “All at once, if you can.” She winked. “It’s the best way with a potion…”
The weather continued pleasantly warm with a few overnight showers, perfect for getting to work in the garden. Anna was Isaac’s willing pupil, learning about the plants that inhabited Kitty’s borders and introducing a few more.
Kitty watched and wondered, finally catching up with her quiet neighbour by the kitchen one afternoon.
“I’ve been meaning to thank you for taking time with my niece,” she said warmly. “She’s not had it easy lately, and your gardening lessons are a perfect pick-me-up.
“Come and share a cup of tea and cake. It’s freshly made.”
A deep flush crept over Isaac’s face. He stammered something about having “to get on” then turned to look back at the kneeling figure of Anna.
“Tell her, go softly,” he murmured. “Keep the roots covered for now.”
Anna, meanwhile, was lost in the world of Kitty’s garden. Like Isaac, she particularly loved the rose arbour, with its heavenly scents and paint-palette shades as new blooms burst to life. She snipped and pruned, watered and weeded, shaded by the old brick wall.
She could breathe so easily here, see things in perspective. And as she dug her hands into the rich, dark earth, she could feel herself healing. Yet she knew that in order to move on, she must first go back…
Kitty kept herself busy the day Anna went up to London, unable to stave off her anxiety about her meeting that lowlife ex-boyfriend and business partner, though she understood her desire to set some ghosts to rest.
She was working on a herbal mixture when she heard a tap on the back door.
Isaac Bradder pulled off his cap as she approached, revealing dark curls.
“Am I interrupting?” he asked.
“Not at all,” said Kitty, smiling. “What can I do for you?”
“Well, I… I was wondering if that offer of tea was still open.”
Kitty was already drawing him inside.
“Oh, definitely! In fact, I’d appreciate the company. I’m fretting about Anna.”
Before she knew it, she was sitting at the table with Isaac, cake and a huge pot of tea. He was a wonderful listener.
“It’s been so good to have her here. She’s such a sweetheart and she deserves so much better than that idiot; that’s why I… oh well, never mind! I do hope she stays a while and lets me spoil her – as you’ve been doing. You’re a kind man, Isaac Bradder.”
On impulse, Kitty leaned over and laid her hand on his. There was a pause, then Isaac, with a slow smile, enfolded that hand in his large, warm palm.
Midsummer had been so kind, Anna reflected as the season edged closer to its end. Kicking off her shoes, she wandered barefoot in the garden, trailing her fingers through the taller shrubs as her toes sank greedily into the grass.
Reaching the arbour, she sat and admired the roses while around her, the world quietly went about its business.
“Any room left on that bench?”
Anna looked up to see Kitty framed in the archway.
“Of course!” She patted the space beside her. “Come and soak up some beauty. Isaac does a wonderful job with these roses, don’t you think?”
“Umm,” murmured Kitty, biting her lip. “Anna, love, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. Remember your first week here, I made you one of my special brews? Well, it was a very special one, darling; a love potion, in fact.”
“I know, I shouldn’t have done it without asking. You were just so unhappy, I wanted to help you find love again. But, well… it seems to have worked on me rather than you. I’m not sure why…”
Anna stared, then realising that Kitty was serious, began to laugh.
Kitty blinked. “You’re not angry?”
Anna enfolded her in a hug.
“Oh, Kitty-Witch! I’m so happy for you, and you know how fond I am of Isaac. If my coming here somehow brought you two together, then I have something else to thank Josh for.”
“In a funny way, he gave me my life back; he brought me here to you. I’m grateful for that.
“And, you know, I have found love – a love of digging in the dirt that will last me lifelong. That’s more than enough for me for now.”
“Then you’ll stay?” Kitty asked. “Make a new start, here with me?”
“If you’re sure I won’t be in the way?” Anna laughed again as Kitty blushed.
“This calls for tea. I’ll put the kettle on.”
She rose, hand resting briefly in Kitty’s, extended to help her, then headed up to the house.
Life was coming up roses, she thought, lifting her fingers to the smile curving her lips. She must tell Kitty that she’d found it again…