Book: The Last Garden in England

By Julia Kelly

(351 pages, historical fiction, 2021)

This creative book shows the lives of five very different women, all bound together by one garden in the English countryside, in different time periods.

In 1907, there’s Venetia Smith, a woman garden designer, very unusual for the time, who is commissioned to design the gardens of Highbury House.  She creates a series of different gardens, each with its own theme.  Her character brings to mind real female gardeners such as designers Gertrude Jekyll, and Vita Sackville-West and the “garden rooms” that she created at Sissinghurst Castle.  Venetia cannot afford to be side-tracked by romance, but the brother of her employer’s wife is very attractive, and he grows his own rare roses.

In 1944, Diana Symonds is grieving for her husband, who was lost in the war, taking care of her young son, and her home of Highbury House has been taken over as a convalescent home for injured soldiers.  Her cook, Stella Adderton, hates to cook and longs to travel.  She’s trying to find a way to leave the house for good.  And land girl Beth Pedley, an orphan with no brothers or sisters, finds not only hard work, but a welcoming community in Highbury House and the village of Highbury.  Beth likes to draw and is invited to use the gardens to sketch.

Present-day, Emma Lovett has built up her own garden design company, Turning Back Thyme.  They bring old, neglected gardens back to life.  She loves the work, but running a business and doing physical work can be exhausting.  Her mother is after her to apply for a job at the Royal Botanical Heritage Society and be set for life.  But Emma wants to go her own way.  She is employed by a young couple to restore the gardens of Highbury House.  They’d like her to bring them back to the original gardens, with the same garden rooms and plants.

Although this is not a gardening book, it has detailed descriptions of the plants and flowers.  You can picture the beds and borders, in the children’s, lover’s or bridal gardens, and the secret, walled winter garden.  Important events for each of the women happen in this same garden, throughout the years.  The women leave their marks on the garden, and in turn the garden changes their lives.  This is a story of passion, love, ambition, sadness and hope.  It is fascinating to see what happens in these women’s lives and how they connect.  You’ll want to read about this glorious garden and the secrets that it keeps.

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Robbin Bailey

Author: Insider Staff

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