Spring is in the air! That means it’s time to tend to our gardens. If you’re like me, though, you may not have the greenest thumb, and so the safest way to enjoy plant life is through fiction. From victory gardens to grand estates, stop and smell the fictional roses in these enchanting historical novels.
8 Historical Novels with Enchanting Gardens You’ll Envy
One garden connects five women across three different times in THE LAST GARDEN IN ENGLAND. From 1907, when the beautiful garden was designed at the estate, to the dark days of 1944, when it was devastated by war, to present day, when this garden gets a second chance, author Julia Kelly weaves a tale in which the garden is not only a lush backdrop but also a character in its own right.
From the author of the international bestsellers The Light Over London and The Whispers of War comes “a compelling read, filled with lovable characters and an alluring twist of fates” (Ellen Keith, author of The Dutch Wife) about five women living across three different times whose lives are all connected by one very special garden.
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 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.
“Gorgeously written and rooted in meticulous period detail, this novel is vibrant as it is stirring. Fans of historical fiction will fall in love with The Last Garden in England” (Roxanne Veletzos, author of The Girl They Left Behind).
Wherever you are in the world, THE LAVENDER GARDEN by Lucinda Riley will have you dreaming of the lavender fields in the South of France. Riley takes us back to the final days of World War II and follows a young British office clerk named Constance who must tell friend from foe in Nazi-occupied France. But in 1998, Emilie is trying to figure out her own family’s history and discovers that Constance’s history might be more closely tied to hers than Emilie could ever guess.
An inherited chateau with vineyards and intrigue abound takes center stage in this captivating novel chronicling a woman’s attempts to understand the deeply embedded history of her old estate. Jumping from World War II to present day in the south of France, the secrets of the old house help bring a family’s history to light.
From the shores of Australia to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast, young Cassandra uncovers her past through the pages of a fairy-tale book—and the forgotten garden of the book's title. In Kate Morton’s THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN, three generations tell their story and readers will learn how the beautiful manor grounds tie them all together.
From the #1 internationally bestselling author of The House at Riverton, a novel that takes the reader on an unforgettable journey through generations and across continents as two women try to uncover their family’s secret past.A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book—a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-fi rst birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, "Nell" sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell’s death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. A spellbinding tale of mystery and self-discovery, The Forgotten Garden will take hold of your imagination and never let go.
If Languoreth, the heroine of THE LOST QUEEN by Signe Pike, were alive today instead of in ancient Scotland, would we be calling her a Plant Mom? Perhaps! Sink into Pike’s lush descriptions of nature and forgotten uses for plant life. Beyond the botanic appeal, this book will reel readers in with its magic and myths-made-real as they experience an alternate history where legends known as King Arthur and Merlin come to life.
The garden in Santa Montefiore’s THE FRENCH GARDENER is in need of some major tender love and care. Miranda and David Claybourne must take a page from history and restore it to its former glory. With the help of an enigmatic Frenchman who arrives on their doorstep, the couple begins the task of healing past and present.
In Malaya 1951, Yun Ling Teoh is still recovering from her time as the lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp. She finds solace among the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands; Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya; and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo. Yun Ling becomes Aritomo’s apprentice and learns the art of gardening. She wants to create a garden in memory of her sister, who died in the camp, but this garden (and the garden’s creator) have many secrets that not even the most lush foliage can hide. THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS by Tan Twan Eng tells a tale of grief and healing through nature.
For Yun Ling Teoh, gardening is a way to rediscover her sense of self and try to atone for the survivor’s guilt she feels after losing her sister during their time in a Japanese internment camp. Brimming with intrigue, Tan Twan Eng’s second novel delves into the history, cultures, and injustices of World War II, and how life goes on for some in the aftermath.
A modern woman is thrown back in time and lands in eighteenth-century Cornwall in THE ROSE GARDEN by Susanna Kearsley. When Eva Ward abandons the glitz of Hollywood after a personal tragedy, she heads to Trelowarth Estate, where the lush rose garden reminds her of family vacations from long ago. However, instead of visiting Trelowarth Estate in the present, she falls into a past when Trelowarth was the home of smuggler Daniel Butler. Eva must decide if she wants to return to her present time and the life she knows or to the past she feels so drawn to.
A historically well-tended garden of roses acts as an anchor for time-traveling heroine Eva Ward, who has returned home to Cornwall to spread the ashes of her recently deceased sister. While there, she finds she can easily slip into the estate’s past, where she has a hard time deciding which century she would like to live in.
There are no green thumbs in Alice Hoffman’s THE RED GARDEN—only red! In the center of Blackwell, Massachusetts, there is a garden where only red plants grow, and where secrets are uncovered for those who know to look. The lives of a poet, the town’s founder, a young Civil War soldier, a mysterious traveler, and so many more intersect in THE RED GARDEN.
In exquisite prose, Alice Hoffman offers a transforming glimpse of small-town America, presenting us with some three hundred years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty, and redemption in a web of tales where characters’ lives are intertwined by fate and by their own actions.
Photo credit: iStock / Julija Kumpinovica