The Lost Garden, by Helen Humphreys, has been sitting on my book shelf for years. I love the cover, have looked at it many times just sitting there waiting for me, but it certainly took me a long time to get to the book. I don’t know why because I’ve liked every book I’ve read by this author! And this one did not disappoint me.
It is a wartime story, a story of sadness, loss, renewal, and the healing power of gardening. It was beautifully written, very poetic, as is every book Helen Humphreys writes.
from the publisher:
This word-perfect, heartbreaking novel is set in early 1941 in Britain when the war seems endless and, perhaps, hopeless. London is on fire from the Blitz, and a young woman gardener named Gwen Davis flees from the burning city for the Devon countryside. She has volunteered for the Land Army, and is to be in charge of a group of young girls who will be trained to plant food crops on an old country estate where the gardens have fallen into ruin. Also on the estate, waiting to be posted, is a regiment of Canadian soldiers. For three months, the young women and men will form attachments, living in a temporary rural escape. No one will be more changed by the stay than Gwen. She will inspire the girls to restore the estate gardens, fall in love with a soldier, find her first deep friendship, and bring a lost garden, created for a great love, back to life. While doing so, she will finally come to know herself and a life worth living.
Shortly after arriving on the estate, Gwen found a secret, long-neglected garden. It became her refuge, a place of solitude, a place where she could process the losses in her life and her hopes and dreams. As she slowly began to restore the garden to its original state, it became clear that it was a garden of love, designed for someone deeply loved.
What I’ve always found interesting in gardens is looking at what people choose to plant there. What they put in. What they leave out. One small choice and then another, and soon there is a mood, an atmosphere, a series of limitations, a world. I would not have chosen the same plants as the anonymous gardener if I were planting a garden of love, but there are some flowers we have in common. Peonies for loss. I too would choose the breaking wave of peonies for loss.
Although this is primarily a story about the healing power of gardens and coming to terms with loss, it is also filled with ruminations on writing, which I found fascinating.
When a writer writes, it’s as if she holds the sides of her chest apart, exposes her beating heart. And even though everything wants to heal, to close over and protect the heart, the writer must keep it bare, exposed. And in doing this, all of life is kept back, all the petty demands of the day-to-day. The heart is a river. The act of writing is the moving water that holds the banks apart, keeps the muscle of words flexing so that the reader can be carried along by this movement. To be given space and the chance to leave one’s earthly world. Is there any greater freedom than this?
This is a very interesting multilayered book which contains so much emotion and growth. I will certainly read it again.
I’m so glad I finally read this book for my 2019 TBR List challenge.