Review: The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

My goodness, January has been a hell of a decade. Since I spent the first weeks of the month being absorbed in the news and ridiculous behavior of so many of my fellow Americans, my reading was not what it usually is. But I’m getting back in the swing of things with some great books, like The Last Garden—just the sort of historical fiction escapism I needed.

What it’s about

From the Goodreads description:

Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.

1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her ambitious work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens—and the people she meets—promise to change her life forever.

1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.

My thoughts

I love historical fiction with multiple timelines. It’s kind of my jam. This book has not one, not two, but three timelines, with not three, not four, but five different women all connected to a single mysterious winter garden at Highbury House in Scotland. One of those timelines is WWII, and all of those women are fascinating in their own distinct way, so this book was a perfect read for me.

The writing is very good, and it’s clear that a lot of research about requisitioned homes in WWII (and English gardens, of course) went in to the process. Each of the characters has a clear voice and their own unique story, from the ‘spinster’ gentleman’s daughter-turned-garden designer in 1907, to the widow, orphan, and cook in 1944, to the modern-day entrepreneur restoring the gardens. The addition of little romance to the drama in each timeline was welcome and well done, too.

The rich descriptions of the gardens, as they are first planned, then in their glory, and later restored, really transported me into the story. I especially loved Venetia and Diana’s stories, but all of these strong female characters were delightful to follow.

I highly recommend this book to fans of WWII-era and historical fiction in general, and I thank NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for my free copy in exchange for this honest review.


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