Five women from three different eras are tied together by one beautiful garden.
In 1907 Venetia Smith, garden designer, is hired to create a series of garden rooms for an elegant country estate, Highbury House, owned by a newly rich couple who seek to impress.
They want “a garden imbued with elegance and ambition, one that will look as though it had been in the family for years rather than being a new acquisition funded by the recent inheritance of his soap fortune.”
In 1944 Highbury House is conscripted by the government to serve as a convalescent hospital. Land girl, Beth Pelly, cook, Stella Adderton and mistress of the house, Lady Diana Symonds are all intertwined in the war effort and the heartbreaking events of the war.
In 2021 Emma Lovell is hired to restore the neglected Highbury House gardens to their former glory. As a business owner she struggles to stay above water and the commission to restore these sumptuous garden rooms is a plum that she must not let go of. She must also shake off the doubts her mother has about her choice of career.
It is sometimes difficult to keep track of the five story lines in the book especially since three of the women are living in the house at the same time. That is the 1944 year of World War II. The mistress, Diana, is mourning the loss of her husband, the orphaned land girl, Beth, is anxious to settle where people care for her and a longtime servant, Stella, aches to get away from the strict class structure of the estate. 1907 and 1944 include secrets that are left to the 2021 garden restorer, Emma, to discover.
This historical romance explores the social constraints women faced in all three eras and their unique solutions to surmounting them. Along the way the author provides numerous depictions of bountiful garden room designs.
This is Venetia’s plan for the tea and the lovers’ gardens:
“I wanted to shock a visitor walking from the calming, feminine plantings of pale purple heliotrope, light pink echinacea, and creamy peonies into a room almost obscene with color. Rich red roses, deep purple salvia, and the red flowering spikes of persicaria, Banana plants, Japanese maples, dahlias, tulips – I wanted it to make people gasp.”
In her author’s note Julia Kelly writes:
“I believe that much like books, gardens are organic, unpredictable things, revealing their beauty how and when they choose. It’s up to us to remember to pause and enjoy that beauty every day.”
When we can’t enjoy walking in a garden, reading descriptions of well -planned gardens can be a pleasant substitute and a fount of ideas for our own gardens.