Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly


I needed to escape from my October reading for a bit and found the perfect book to do just that. This novel will be out in January, 2021 so if you're a fan of Julia Kelly you'll have a few months to wait. 

I'm one of those people who love all things gardening-especially flower gardens. I am, however, not one to be out in a garden working on it every chance I get. I love the results, but not so much all the work to get there. I used to have a lot of flowers in my yard, but I've scaled back massively the past few years because I don't have the time, and I've realized that whomever follows me in my house may not want a lot of flower beds around. I still have perennials, but I've gone to simple, easy to care for summer flowers and plants in pots. I still have a wish for a forever home with a field of wildflowers somewhere on the property. My partner has agreed on this, so hopefully in the future I'll have that gardening wish come true. 

This novel has quite a few characters-five women-that each have a tale, and three different time periods. It may sound complicated, but it's really easy to follow. 1907 is Venetia Smith, a woman who is one of the few female gardening experts in England making a name for herself. She's been hired to create a huge garden for a newly wealthy couple at their estate Highbury House. Her reputation is on the line, both professionally and personally. She must walk a fine line between pleasing her employers and creating a stunning garden with her knowledge and experience. 

1944: Britain is in the middle of World War 2, and Highbury House is now a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers  Diana Symonds is the widow who owns the home, living there with her son Robin and spending time in the run down gardens when it is all too much. Her cook, Stella, has lived in the area all her life, and all she wants to do is leave to work and travel. She feels trapped, especially since her sister has brought her young son to Stella to stay in the country, away from London. Stella is not at all the motherly type, and has a hard time connecting to her nephew. And there is Beth, who is a land girl for the British Government. She has come to the country to help out on a farm, doing whatever needs done to produce food and keep the farming community running. An unlikely trio of women, but somehow they all connect and rely on each other. 

2021: Emma Lovett has been hired by the current owners of Highbury House to recreate the gardens Venetia Smith created in 1907. With not much to go on but rough outlines of garden "rooms" in the lawn, a few notes and a few photos, Emma has her work cut out for her. She also has to decide if keeping her small business going is worth the hard work. Emma admires Venetia's work, and uncovers unknown facts about Venetia and Highbury House while working on the garden. 

All three stories connect neatly and I had no trouble going back and forth between each time period. The garden descriptions were fascinating and interesting, I only wish I had a visual while reading! It's hard for me to say which part of the plot I enjoyed the most; each story was compelling and had a few surprise elements. 

All in all, a satisfactory historical fiction novel about love, family, gardening, choices, and finding your happiness in the midst of the worst circumstances. I did also appreciate the focus on the gardening angle, especially during the World War 2 portions of the novel. I'm a bit weary of war novels, and while it did figure prominently in this novel, it was more about the war at home and how women were discovering their strengths and talents to create new lives. 

Rating: 4/6 for a solid historical novel about gardens, England, women who rise to challenges, and the continuing history of a home that saw much love and sorrow. 

This novel will be out in hardcover in January, 2021 in the United States. 

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