Desert Isle Keeper
The Last Garden in England
I’m an avid gardener and a lover of Historical Fiction so I was delighted to pick up The Last Garden in England. I’m happy to report it was everything I hoped it would be!
The Last Garden in England tells the story of the Highbury House garden across three different time periods. The first begins in 1907 when Venetia Smith, budding horticultural designer to the new-monied class is hired to design and plant an impressive garden at the Highbury House estate of Mr. and Mrs. Melcourt. Her plans are extensive – tea garden, lovers’ garden, children’s garden, bridal garden, water garden, sculpture garden, lavender walk, and finally, a walled winter garden.
The second story is set in 1944 during World War II. There are three women in this tale; Beth Pedley, a land girl working at a farm in Highbury; Stella Adderton, a cook at the house; and Diana Symonds, recent widow of the owner of Highbury House. This story is centered around the house, its requisition as a hospital, and the three women trying their hardest to hold everything together in such a challenging time. The war efforts have brought all of them together in a time when class distinctions are blurring, and what it means to be a woman is changing.
The third story is set in the modern day. Emma Lovett and her company Turning Back Thyme have been hired to restore the Highbury House garden to Venetia’s original design, the only problem being that they have not found the original plans and must make assumptions based on current plantings, old diaries and photographs, and drawings done by Beth Pedley in 1944. They are also hampered by the fact that the walled winter garden has been locked for almost eighty years and the key is nowhere to be found.
Julia Kelly masterfully weaves all these stories together into a very absorbing novel. Venetia’s story is burdened by class distinctions and the challenges of a woman making her own way in a man’s field. She finds love but at a great cost. Beth, Stella, and Diana are so easy to relate to – they are waiting to hear about the fates of loved ones, trying to keep their spirits hopeful, busying themselves with tasks they never imagined doing, and, sadly, experiencing all the tragedy that war brings. Emma’s story is the lightest of all and includes her discovery of the secrets that tie the women and the garden together.
Often, stories set in multiple time periods are a little disjointed or the reader is more interested in one of the stories rather than all of them. That was not the case here. All three narratives are engaging and very different. Ms. Kelly writes the tales against the backdrop of the gardening season and the transitions between the narratives are well executed. Each story could stand-alone but the questions raised in one storyline are creatively answered in another, and the reader feels all the richer for having puzzled out the clues deftly placed by Ms. Kelly.
The Last Garden in England has the best of everything Historical Fictions offers. It’s a gem of a book and I wholeheartedly recommend it!