"The Last Garden in England," | Reviewed by Susan Ferguson
“The Last Garden in England,” by Julia Kelly, is a generational story centering on a garden in England. It alternates between three time periods and is told by three strong women who each have an opportunity to work on the gardens at Highbury House.
Present day Emma Lovett owns her own landscaping business and specializes in refurbishing neglected gardens. Emma is thrilled when she is asked to restore the famous Highbury House Gardens, originally designed in 1907 by world-renowned garden designer Venetia Smith. Emma conducts extensive research hoping to find original designs or photos of the gardens. She not only succeeds but also uncovers secrets hidden within the winter garden.
Venetia Smith was a garden designer in 1907. Her business and reputation grew because industrialists, bankers and other successful people wanted their wealth on display by having expansive, intricate gardens planted on their country-home estates.
Venetia had no idea that designing the gardens at Highbury House would change her life forever. When she falls in love with the owner’s brother, her job and reputation are jeopardized. Once the gardens plans are completed, Venetia leaves Highbury House and England, a secret is left there as well.
In 1944, Diana Symonds and her husband Murray finished redecorating Highbury House when the Germans invaded Poland. As a result of the invasion, Prime Minister Chamberlain declared war. When Murray, a medical doctor is killed in combat, Highbury House is requisitioned by the military and transformed into a hospital for injured soldiers. Diana worked hard to keep the gardens up during the war, refusing to let the government plow them under. Like Venetia, the garden gives Diana a voice she didn’t know she had. And like Venetia she has a secret hidden in the winter garden.
I really enjoyed this novel. It has great characters and I was immersed in watching their development. “The Winter Garden” is romantic and mysterious, and has some twists. If you enjoy gardening you will love the descriptions of the gardens, and feel like you are walking through them. Though the story has three different timelines and focuses on three characters, Highbury House Gardens links them together seamlessly.