The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly, Gallery Books 2021 –
What better time spent than enjoying the delights of a resplendent garden? The famous gardens of the world are the result of landscape designers attempting to enhance, harmonize or tame nature in a way that reflects their will. But landscape gardening is a joint venture of visions, for every landscape designers requires someone with the capital to finance the project.
I’m fortunate to live only minutes from the Butchart Gardens, a jewel wrested from a cement quarry and financed by the family whose wealth sprang from cement and morphed into flowers. The garden has three distinct seasons, my favorite being the spring with thousands of tulips in hundreds of varieties competing with the spectacular blooms of flowering trees. Summer roses are the stars of the middle period and a light show based on the twelve days of Christmas carries the garden through the winter. Visiting my Dearest Darling Daughter (DDD) last week in Vancouver gave rise to visiting the remarkable VanDusen gardens, a happy collaboration between designer Roy Forster and lumber magnate W.J. VanDusen. Would that everyone had such gardens for a carefree afternoon.
It’s hardly surprising that formal gardens have been featured in any number of fictional stories, especially those in which the gardens have, for one reason or another, declined from their former glory. Favorites like ‘The Secret Garden’ and ‘The Forgotten Garden’ are now joined by Julia Kelly’s novel ‘The Last Garden in England’. The usual ingredients are all there: a manor, Highbury House, in need of a garden, a young and gifted designer ready for the task, the wealthy owner ready to supply the cash and the garden’s inevitable decline over time. Kelly has three love stories set in different time periods running through the book, all thematically joined by the garden. The first story is set in the early 1900’s and involves the designer of the garden and her attraction to a poor relation of the manor’s owner. She eventually moves to America and wins renown as a landscape architect, her last project in England being Highbury House. The second set of stories is set in world war two when the manor is requisitioned and put to use as a temporary war hospital. The owner has been recently widowed and is struggling to maintain her house, her tenuous position as master of the house and her desire to protect the garden. The final story is one of renewal. Set in contemporary times, the House has been bought by distant relations of the original owner who have sufficient money to restore the manor and the gardens. They hire an up and coming landscape architect who manages to uncover more than the original glory of Highbury’s garden.
Each of the three stories feature engaging characters with secrets that await future discovery. All in all it’s a pleasant book that will appeal to romance readers who delight in relationships that are forged by common tasks set amidst an idyllic rural setting.
TL:DR – A book with charm that offers passing delights – an action thriller it’s not.