Have you ever wandered through an old, neglected cemetery? Chances are you might have encountered an old forgotten rose. A common tradition of the 19th century was to place the favorite flower of a deceased mother by her headstone. Most often, that flower was a rose, and there were plenty to choose from. At the time, there were over 6,000 varieties of roses.
But then came the twentieth century—an era of consolidation. Only a few large firms grew roses, and only the best sellers—which caused the elimination of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of roses. Those roses, a legacy of 2,500 years of breeding and gardening, disappeared from nursery catalogs and eventually from gardens, too. They were lost until the 1970s when rose rustlers set out to discover neglected rose specimens that had survived in abandoned gardens, cemeteries, vacant lots, and backyards of old towns. When rose rustlers find an old rose, they identify it and take cuttings to propagate (with permission, of course). Now and then, they discover a “found”—a rose that was thought to be extinct.
And then there’s the story behind the lost roses! The one that tugs at my heart is about Louise the Unfortunate. In the mid 1800’s, Louise was a mail order bride from New Orleans. She traveled to Natchez, Mississippi to meet her new husband to-be and start her new life. She waited and waited on the docks but no one came to claim her. A day turned into night, then a week, then a month. Had her betrothed come to the docks, saw her, and changed his mind? Had something happened to him? Penniless, heartbroken and ashamed, Louise could not go home. She became a prostitute, working “Under the Hill,” until she took ill and died. Her white marble headstone has a simple epitaph: “Louise the Unfortunate” and a pink rose adorns her grave.
The history of roses, all true, is the framework for Christmas at Rose Hill Farm. We meet up again with Bess Riehl from The Search, whose one-of-a-kind and slightly outrageous grandmother, Bertha Riehl, was a grower and lover of roses. Tucked into the corner of her grandmother’s greenhouse, Bess comes across a forgotten potted rose. One bud is soon to bloom. Curious and unable to identify the rose, Bess requests Penn State Extension to send out a rose rustler. That rose rustler turns out to be Billy Lapp, her first love.
When Billy Lapp is told by boss at Penn State to go to a small Amish farm in Stoney Ridge to identify a rose, he is livid. He’d rather go anywhere on earth than return to Rose Hill Farm. There’s only one thing that could lure him back: a “found” rose.
As Billy maps out the heritage of the rose, he discovers that not only is it a lost rose but it dates back to 1737, when the Amish first came to America. In the rose world, this “found” is the equivalent of an earthquake. In the Amish world of Stoney Ridge, especially for Bess Riehl, the return of Billy Lapp has a similar effect.
Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of The Letters, The Calling, the Lancaster County Secrets series, and the Stoney Ridge Seasons series, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. Her latest book, The Revealing released July 1st. Suzanne is a Carol Award winner for The Search, a Carol Award finalist for The Choice, and a Christy Award finalist for The Waiting. She is the host of the Amish Wisdom blog, as well as a columnist for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazines. She also offers readers a free downloadable app, Amish Wisdom, that delivers a daily Penn Dutch proverb. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Purchase Suzanne’s books here.