“someone with whom I could have a general conversation”

From: An Economic History of the English Garden (2019), by Roderick Floud:

“On 4 March 1981, the garden designer and journalist Lanning Roper wrote to Mrs Andrew Parker Bowles:

It is dear of you to have arranged that I should help Prince Charles with the garden of the new house. I had an ecstatic letter from your grandmother with ideas of giving him plants and even propagating things for him.

Those two sentences say so much: about the status of a garden designer; about the networks of clients that help a designer to get commissions; about the enthusiasm of gardeners to share their knowledge and their plants; even about an imminent royal marriage – the letter was written a few months before the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer that ended in divorce and her tragic death. It is clear that she had little interest in gardening. The ‘garden of the new house’ is that of Highgrove, the latest in the string of royal gardens. Mrs Andrew Parker Bowles, Camilla, was then the lover and is now the second wife of Prince Charles and holds the title of Duchess of Cornwall. Her ‘ecstatic’ grandmother, Sonia Cubitt, was the daughter of King Edward VII’s last mistress, Alice Keppel. Lanning Roper had worked for Sonia since 1973 at Hall Place, West Meon, Hampshire, but had also, since 1967, been redesigning the garden at The Laines, near Brighton, for Major Bruce Shand and his wife Rosalind, Camilla’s parents.

Roper, like many other garden designers, relied on his social connections and networks, as well as his books and newspaper columns, to bring him work…Roper had to cope with clients who had their own staff, and their own gardeners, who needed to interpret their employer’s rather vague wishes or demanded a more formal contractual relationship. In June 1981, he wrote to Sir Edward Adeane, Private Secretary to Prince Charles:

I have no idea of how the Prince of Wales would like me to proceed, and no idea of the money that he is prepared to spend. I have tried to emphasise priorities and to encourage the delay of a number of decisions, until they have had time to live in the house for a reasonable period…I would be most grateful if you could suggest someone with whom I could have a general conversation, to sort out a multitude of problems, which need to be resolved before I can proceed intelligently.

As it happens, Lanning Roper’s ‘help’ at Highgrove was cut short, after only a few months, by a recurrence of the cancer that was eventually to kill him in the spring of 1983…”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s