British countess regales Dallas luncheon with tales from Downton Abbey's Highclere Castle
What: Tales from Highclere Castle, A Writer’s Garden Literary Symposium and Luncheon
Where: Dallas Arboretum
The 411: Dallas' most regal luncheon of the season transported guests to the dining room of Downtown Abbey, where they dined on an elegant multicourse meal while wine stewards kept glasses full, and the hostess even dropped a funny tidbit about Lady Mary. (More on that in a sec.)
Lady Fiona Carnarvon, the Right Honorable Countess of Carnarvon, author and real-life Lady of Highclere Castle - otherwise known as the filming site of TV's Downton Abbey - was the featured speaker at A Writer’s Garden Literary Symposium and Luncheon benefiting the Women’s Council of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden and A Woman’s Garden on October 18.
Chaired by Dyann Skelton and Therese Rourk, with Donna and Herb Weitzman as honorary chairs and Sarah Jo Hardin as Women's Council president, the event was part of a week-long Noble Celebration of the 25th anniversary of A Woman’s Garden and the 40th anniversary of the Women’s Council.
Fiona, the 8th Countess of Carnarvon, is married to Geordie, 8th Earl of Carnarvon. They have lived at, and cared for, England's Highclere Castle since 2001 - before Downton Abbey came knocking to make it the most famous castle in the world. (And yes, hey shared their home with the cast and crew of the TV series and movies.) She is the best-selling author of five books, historian, speaker, fundraiser, and manager of castle-related global endeavors, including award-winning Highclere Castle Gin and Chateau Highclere vineyards (with a forthcoming pink sparkling wine).
After a VIP reception, at which patrons could take a Gittings Photography portrait with Lady Carnarvon and enjoy mimosas, small bites, and a coffee bar sponsored by Patti Mitchell and Kay Weeks, the crowd sat down to a luncheon and presentation inside Rosine Hall.
Lady Carnarvon, who was making her first visit to Dallas, took the crowd on a fascinating and intimate journey through four seasons of Highclere and included projected photos and highlights from her new book, Seasons at Highclere.
Among the highlights were:
- A history of Highclere from its earliest records in 1216 to today. For example, in 1908, there were 100 gardeners and today there are four. She and her husband often plan the landscape, then get in the dirt to plant and tend the grounds themselves.
- They plant with the seasons in mind, and each season brings a new personality to the castle, from the spring fields of new grass to the summer wildflowers, the changing colors of leaves in fall, and the snow on trees in winter.
- Paths are made on purpose for humans and wildlife to enjoy. Trees are placed to encourage wandering, and flowers planted to encourage insect and bee habitats.
- Life at Highclere includes a menagerie of animals, including "Lady Mary, the pig" and others. Animals (including other pigs, horses, sheep, and lambs) are named after characters in Downton Abbey. Chickens are named for characters from Jane Austen books. She and her husband have seven dogs.
- This year they launched the Lady Carnarvon Rose and Highclere Castle Rose. The last time Lady Carnarvon saw Queen Elizabeth II (who was friends with Earl Carnarvon's parents) was at the Chelsea Flower Show.
As a special course of the luncheon, guests dined on an appetizer of Chilled Parsnip and Apple Soup, which was Lady Carnarvon’s recipe from Seasons at Highclere. It was followed by an entrée of Chicken Crepes with Creamy Mushroom Sauce and dessert of Molten Chocolate Lava Cake. Each guest's place was set with a cookie customized with Countess Carnarvon's royal cypher.
A spirited auction conducted by Samantha Sisler from Heritage Auctions took place, but everyone had the opportunity to go home with a special memento of the day - a copy of Seasons at Highclere autographed by Lady Carnarvon herself.
Who: Anne Stodghill, Devon Jones, Tricia Conover, Linda Spina, Nikki Beneke, Sharla Bush, Connie Rhoades, Lisa Meyer, Millie Bradley, Natalie Taylor, Nancy Greenbach, Annika Cail, Barbara Averitt, Linda Burk, Barb Garcia, Linda Gilmore, Jane Hardenbergh, Venise Stuart, Merena Gault, Dorothea Meltzer, Terry Irby, Ann Marie Scichili, Sharon Adams, and many more.