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Hot Topic: Gardening in Fiction


Maureen Brook —

Gardens and novels have long been companions.

“With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?”—Oscar Wilde.

There is nothing more pleasant than sitting in your garden reading a good book. The following novels have been selected because of their settings in gardens or the joys of gardening.

The Orchardist. Amanda Coplin
At the turn of the century in the Pacific Northwest, haunted by a troubled past, William Talmadge lives a solitary life, taking refuge in tending to his apple orchard.  One day while in town to sell his apples at the market he sees two pregnant girls steal his fruit. They turn up at his farm curious as to why he did not retaliate. Talmadge shows the girls compassion but as soon as they begin to trust him, the owner of the brothel from which the girls have escaped shows up and violence ensues. In the aftermath Talmadge learns to open himself up to the world.

The Language of Flowers. Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Following a childhood spent in foster homes, moving from one to another, Victoria Jones has developed a special connection to flowers and their meanings.  As a young adult, Victoria's talent is soon discovered by a local florist, and Victoria comes to realise that she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. Can she now open herself up to the possibility of love and connection with people?

A Secret Garden. Katie Fforde
Lorna and Philly work together in the grounds of a large manor house in the Cotswolds. They have lots of friends and relatives nearby.  And, yes, they discover a secret garden beyond some Ash trees at the back of the garden.   A light, romantic, cosy read.

The Gentleman's Garden. Catherine Jinks
In 1814 newly-wed Dorothea Brande leaves her quiet life in Devonshire to accompany her Officer husband, Charles, to the colony of New South Wales. Her homesickness and the harsh environment soon overwhelm her. Dorothea's saving grace is the decision to create an English-style cottage garden with the help of her convict manservant, Daniel. As a result, Dorothea grows in maturity and empathy for those around her struggling to survive in the penal colony.

A Home Like Ours. Fiona Lowe
Set in the fictional town of Boolonga in Northern Victoria, the story has a community garden at its centre.  The lives of four women from different backgrounds are told through their involvement in the community garden. Issues such as ageism, racism, displacement,  emerge as new people arrive to make new lives in the town. For each of these women the garden becomes a place where they achieve peace and a sense of connection.

Josephine's Garden. Stephanie Parkyn
Former socialite Rose de Beauharnais has survived the French revolution and has married Napoleon Bonaparte. She becomes Empress Josephine of France and longs to produce an heir.  As her marriage turn sour she seeks refuge in creating a beautiful garden.  Her work in the garden brings her into contact with two other women, Anne and Marthe, from different social spheres. In the meantime the Empress creates a garden with plants and animals from all over the world.

The Winter Garden. Heidi Swain
Freya Fuller has recently lost her job as a live-in gardener at a Suffolk estate. When she is offered a job to design a winter garden at a Victorian mansion in Nightingale Square, Freya jumps at the chance.  Most of the locals are welcoming and friendly, with the exception of Finn, a sculptor, who seems determined to shut Freya out.  Can the two manage to work together and will Freya find a way forward in creating both a garden and a new life for herself?


Leaving Home. Anita Brookner
The Forbidden Garden. Ellen Herrick
The House By The Sea. Santa Montefiore
The House With No Rooms. Lesley Thomson
A Thousand Paper Birds. Tor Udall