Cover Image: The Last Garden in England

The Last Garden in England

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Member Reviews

How can a single garden connect three very different women across time? This lovely novel by Julia Kelly takes you back to the days of huge British estates (think Downton Abbey) with expansive, evocative gardens. 

Garden designer Venetia Smith creates the gardens at Highbury House (1907); in World War II era we meet Beth Pedley who is a land girl working at Highbury House, and in current day we meet Emma Lovett who is hired to restore the gardens. With this triple timeline weaving in and out, author Julia Kelly has produced an excellent piece of historical fiction that will keep you turning the page until the very end. 

Everyone who reviews this book has their own favorite character but obviously the main character is actually the garden itself. With "rooms" that correlate and parallel women's lives, the garden, it's design, and it's restoration is a perfect metaphor for women's lives.

Such a lovely, wonderful novel and one you might need to read more deeply than you initially anticipate. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.
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Once I started, I couldn't put The Last Garden in England down and was disappointed when it ended. As always, Julia Kelly hit the jackpot with the characters and plot.
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Historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine. The Last Garden of England follows the stories of five women - Venetia in 1907, Stella, Diana, and Beth in the early 1940’s, and Emma in 2021 all centered around an elaborate garden on an estate in England. The storylines are easy to follow and not confusing as they switch back and forth. I found this book to be both endearing and heartbreaking, with the ways of the earlier time periods the catalyst for a lot of the more sad plot points. 

To my surprise, I liked all five of the women and most of the supporting characters. Emma’s story was less intriguing but interesting as she helped put together pieces of the puzzle for the other stories as she renovates the garden. Some twists I saw coming but others took me by surprise. I liked that three of the women were in the same time period and they had overlapping stories. I believe it is Diana who I liked the most. She was dealt a hard hand in life in many ways, proof that money doesn’t protect you from heartache. I enjoyed the growth of her character throughout the story. I was rooting for her and she did not disappoint. I want to keep this spoiler-free so I’ll also just say Stella was ahead of her time. A modern woman who wanted more than her time period offered for females. I understood her and I’m glad her storyline went in the direction it did. Beth was very sweet, but she started out fiery and then it kind of tapered off. I knew who she was going to end up with from the beginning, although I would have liked more information on what happened to the other guy after she said goodbye. Lastly, Venetia. Another woman ahead of her time. I’m so glad her story went the way it did. She was the original designer of the garden and a very intelligent, strong woman. I was prepared to learn her life went the complete opposite direction. I only wish we had more information on how her husband’s family handled everything.

I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and also for lovers of gardening. I don’t love to garden but appreciated the visual picture painted for me of the flowers and design. I’ve visited many historical homes so I had a great picture in my mind of how it may have looked. For those passionate about plants and flowers, this book is very descriptive and I believe you will find pleasing. A warning that some things caught me off guard in their sadness although I’m not sure why when I know a book in the war’s time period is never a light read. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books for the opportunity read and review this book.
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This is the third novel I have read by this author and IMHO this is her best - and I'm not a gardener at all!   The Last Garden in England weaves three different timelines together - the early 1900s (1907) with landscape architect/garden designer Venetia Smith creating a spectacular garden for Highbury House in the UK while at the same time, falling in love with the owner's brother; 1944 during WWII with Highbury House's then-owner dealing with loss and a cast of characters which come from her home being requisitioned by the Government for use as a wartime hospital; and finally a current-day timeline with garden restorer Emma being hired by the current owners of Highbury to restore the gardens to their former glory.  No spoilers - but there were some plot twists that I did not expect that brought the story to a satisfying conclusion.  I highly recommend this book.  Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
All opinions are my own.

3.5 stars
I love historical fiction stories, and I especially love when stories have multiple timelines and/or POVs, so this was right up my alley.
The requisitioning of country houses during World War II is utterly fascinating to me and I am glad that period of history was included in the narrative.
I am very much a city mouse and had trouble picturing the garden in my head - was it outdoors or indoors? The author kept mentioning rooms, and I couldn't decide. Was it rooms divided like at the garden center, or different gardens divided like the botanical gardens?
There are a lot of heavy topics discussed throughout the book, but the tone is overall very cheerful and uplifting, and I liked that aspect.
If anything, I thought that too many POVs were represented. I wish the author had stuck to one for each time period, instead of including 3 in the WWII chapters. I definitely could have done without Stella and Beth - their stories could easily have been told from Diana's perspective with not much difference.
Overall, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it to others.
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This novel, The Last Garden in England was captivating and stunning, from the first page to the last,  In the garden at Highbury House, the women of the story are all woven together, spanning several generations.  All of the love, the loss, and the triumph of their lives kept me reading late into the night.  Gorgeously written, I felt as if I were wandering the garden myself.
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During this pandemic, many of my friends and contemporaries have turned into plant aficionados. Their social media posts show evidence of the joy and solace they find in the plants they are growing and caring for. I think they would like the blooming comfort this book has to offer. 

In this captivating historical fiction, Julia Kelly writes about five women across three different generations, connected by a beautiful garden. With the chapters cleverly divided into seasons starting with winter, I was already hooked early on and wanted to get to know these women better, what ties them together, and what sets them apart – their hopes, dreams, insecurities, doubts, and strengths. The novel is brilliantly written with long-lost secrets revealed, beautifully peeling off the lingering mysteries surrounding the characters. This is an enjoyable read that reminded me of my short week in Shrivenham, a village in Oxfordshire, with its pretty cottages and historic public house. I highly recommend The Last Garden in England!
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What a fascinating read! I loved following the stories of three women in the garden at such different times. The Last Garden in England made me think - especially about friendships and changing social modes. I'll definitely recommended this book to friends and family.
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I am in awe of this book. First the cover...in all honesty I saw historical fiction and the cover and fell in love. Second, I cannot find the words to successfully articulate the impact the book had on me. I loved the three timelines and the different points of view from three very strong women.  I really cared about all the characters that Julia Kelly created and that is truly a sign of a brilliant read. 

The vivid descriptions in this book had my imagination on overdrive as I thought of the garden itself and the time and place the book was set in. I imagined the house and the clothes as well as the foliage it was very atmospheric throughout. 

This is one of the best Historical Fiction books I have read...it's brilliantly, beautifully written and so well researched...This is a book that will remain in my heart for many years to come for so many reasons that it deserves all the stars.
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I love historical fiction and am a huge fan of books told from multiple perspectives, so The Last Garden in England was a joy to read. Each of the women’s stories is compelling. The premise of the gardens tying these lives together was fascinating, and the prose is so beautiful that I could picture each glorious garden. I hadn’t known of land girls or homes being requisitioned (other than Downton Abbey!) and appreciated learning about both. While the ending was perhaps a bit neat, it didn’t take too much away from this thoroughly enjoyable novel.
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Maybe 4.5 stars. Really interesting three timeline book about women in different time periods all attracted/attached to the same garden. One timeline is when the garden is being created in 1907, one is 1944 and focuses on 3 women, and one is present day, focusing on the woman restoring the garden to its original glory. Timelines were easy to follow. 1907 was great - woman designing the magnificent garden; 1944 focused on the owner of the house, the cook in the kitchen, and a land girl living nearby; and 2021 focuses on Emma, who owns her own business and specializes in restoring gardens. Each character is richly drawn, and each has their own ups and downs.

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.

: "A talented artist with a growing reputation for her ambitious 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."
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As much as I love stories told about WWII, I was excited to delve into this one by Julia Kelly. The idea of connecting different time periods, lives, and experiences through one garden is a unique perspective to the usual trope of historical fiction from that period. Three stories weave together like English ivy, beautiful on the outside, but a little too thick under the leaves. 
Venetia Smith, a professional garden planner in 1907, is commissioned to bring back to life the gardens of Highbury House; the sketches from Beth in 1944, as Highbury is transformed into an auxiliary hospital for wounded soldiers; and then, the third era is set in 2021, where Emma (and her company, Turning Back Thyme – BRILLIANT NAME) uses Venetia’s earlier plans to again restore the splendour of the gardens. The gardens of Highbury are the foundation upon which these women build their life, and their love, and upon which Julia Kelly seeds this story.
I must admit, however, that I felt somewhat bogged down in the details of the abundant flora, so much so that I almost stopped reading. I had to force myself, at times, to push forward, feeling as I was reading a manual on gardening rather than a story about women. I did not connect with any of the women from the very beginning, but I definitely want to have a garden like the one described. On a high point, Ms Kelly’s flourishing and gorgeous descriptions of the garden were lush, vibrant, and fragrant. Overall, this book was a few days distraction and a chance to scowl at my own garden with disappointment, but I might only recommend to those who are avid gardeners. Having a mediocre green thumb, myself, perhaps this was just not my cup of tea leaves.
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The Last Garden in England tells the story of the garden at the fictional Highbury House, from its conception in 1907, to its use as a place of rest and solace for convalescing troops during WWII, to its 21st Century restoration.  But this book is much more than a botany primer; the lives of the women who love the garden are explored and, in some cases, intertwined.

At first I was nervous that The Last Garden in England was going to be too focused on the technicalities of gardening and that I would be in over my head.  I quickly realized there was just enough gardening nomenclature to pique my interest, but not so much that I was confused.

The other main idea threaded throughout the book besides gardening was the concept of loneliness.  Every main character dealt with loneliness on some level, whether it was foisted upon them or they chose a life of relative solitude.  What are the consequences of being lonely?  When do the rewards of seeking companionship outweigh the risk?  How can we best cope with sudden, profound loss?  I didn’t always 100% agree with how the characters answered these questions in their own lives, but I was sympathetic to the choices they made.  The Last Garden in England was a lovely, thoughtful piece of historical fiction that was a pleasure to read.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC!
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I wasn't sure I was going to like this one, with five different POVs, but they're done so well, I kept reading from chapter to chapter, looking to get more of each story.

The first POV is Emma in the present day. She's hired to restore the gardens at Highbury House estate.

In 1907, there's Venetia, the designer of the gardens. She's hired to come up with the original design on the garden rooms.

And then, in 1944, there are three women— Diana, whose husband left her Highbury House, her cook, Stella, and a land girl named Beth, at a neighboring farm. Their lives are connected to the house and also to each other.

The gardens themselves are like another character, since so much revolves around them.

The book is very well written and I liked how each story wrapped in the best way for each character.

I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley and this is my honest opinion.
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This book is great. It is the story of three generations of women and the garden that they cared for. It's not just a regular garden, but includes many different sections including a walled winter garden. Venetia designs the garden in the 1900s. Diana tends to it during WWII and tries to save it from being requisitioned. Emma is hired to restore it during modern times.

There is an impressive amount of detail about the (fictional) garden itself, but the author also clearly did a lot of research into the history of the time periods as well. The characters are well thought out and I definitely became engaged in all of their stories. This book is thoroughly enjoyable. I definitely recommend it.
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THE LAST GARDEN IN ENGLAND by Julia Kelly is a beautifully-written and poignant story of five different women living in three time periods decades apart but all connected by the same special garden in England. In 1907, Venetia Smith is one of very few women garden designers and she has been hired to design the gardens of the opulent Highbury House estate. Her interactions with its wealthy owners and their family and friends will change her life forever. In 1944, land girl, Beth Pedley arrives to work at a farm near Highbury House. The grand home has been requisitioned to the British Army and turned into a convalescent hospital for injured soldiers. The once lush gardens are at risk of being destroyed for the war effort. While delivering food and supplies, Beth meets the manor’s cook, Stella Adderton and its mistress, Diana Symonds, a recent widow of the war. These three women’s lives become intertwined by a long-held secret. In the present day, the Highbury House gardens are overgrown and neglected. Emma Lovett has been hired to restore the famous gardens to their former glory. As she learns more about the gardens’ past, shocking secrets are revealed that change everyone’s understanding of the history of the estate and its occupants. The characters are wonderfully-portrayed. I was transported to each time period by the vivid descriptions of the setting, especially the gardens. THE LAST GARDEN IN ENGLAND is a well-researched and enjoyable work of historical fiction that I highly recommend. Thank you to the author, publisher and NetGalley for the chance to read an early copy.
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Thank you NetGallery for the privilege of reading this book prior to publication.

This book takes place around the gardens at the  Highbury House.  There are three women and three. Time periods that. the story unfolds around.. 

The first is in 1907 when the Melcourts, the owners, hirer Venetia Smith to design several different formal gardens on the property. There is a nice description of the flowers and plants.  The story involves  a romance with the brother of the owners who cultivated roses.  She leaves the country and thus the name of the book, the Last Garden in England.

But, the gardens story continues. Into the wartime of 1944. The owners are Symonds unfortunately, the husband dies and the wife Dianna runs the home with her son Robin who at a young age of 2 dies as well.  However, now enters Elizabeth ((Beth) Pedley who works on a farm as a land girl, who delivers food to Highbury.  She is awed buy the gardens and sketches them. She becomes friends with the cook, Stella.  Both Beth who wants to belong to a family with love, and Stella who wants to go and have a life are struggling with their own desires.  Stella’s sister drops off her young son to be cared for by Stella.. 

Then comes the present and the house is owned by the Wilcoxs who commission Emma Lovell who owns a company called Turning Back Tyme.  The gardens have been left without care for years and Emma is determined to bring them back to the gardens when Venetia designed them in 1907.  It is very interesting how the story is brought together by the research in finding out what has happened and how it all fits together.

The story jumps around from chapter to chapter in dates and people. It is wise to take some notes, at least for me it was so helpful to follow the story.

I enjoyed the story and would call it historical fiction and women.
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BEAUTIFUL! I adored each and every woman in this heart stirring book. I was so emotionally attached to all of them. The loss of the children was heartbreaking. I cried with Venetia's loss, and then again with Diana's loss. Julia Kelly really made this house, each era, each garden, and each person stand out for me. She wove each story together wonderfully. I was able to easily move from one story to the next with out issues. I loved how she wove each woman's story to the next and back again. The greatest heartbreak for me throughout was Bobby. I was so shocked at how his aunt was so distant and yet, I understood it at the same time. Not all women want to be mother's nor live their life raising a child. But Bobby deserved Diana. So much. He lost Robin, and so did Diana. They git together like the greatest puzzle pieces! The box Emma found broke me down into tears so much that my 2 yr old came and asked when what was wrong. It was the final resting place for both Diana and Bobby for Robin.
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3.5 stars

Scotland, 2021. Emma is commissioned to restore a historic garden at Highbury House. She strives for historical accuracy in re-creating a garden. And that’s the part I enjoyed the most in this story. The process of finding any kind of trace, a drawing or a picture, that would lead her in the right direction. The story is also consumed by her relationship with her parents. And her mom’s regret that Emma didn’t go to college. Instead, she took a course in garden design and opened her own company, which her mother doesn’t applaud as she doesn’t see it as having a stable life.

1907. Venetia Smith is commissioned to design a garden at Highbury House. She finds the owners - her employers challenging. Brother of the owners breeds roses. Her designing a garden and him breeding some roses lead to a romantic relationship.

The concept of designing a garden, then its restoration is a very original premise. And I was looking forward to those two stories. But I didn’t feel that the designing and restoration process came through in those two stories. They were more absorbed by something else. At the end, the story I expected the least from turned out to be the most interesting.

1944. During the war, the Highbury House is being used as a convalescent hospital.

Beth, after finishing her training at the agricultural college, the city girl travels to the country to become a land girl. While delivering produce to the Highbury House hospital, she takes a look at the garden rooms and “their surprising little nooks and crannies.” She gets an itch to sketch them.

Stella is a cook at the Highbury House hospital. But she has bigger dreams.

Diana Symonds is the owner of the Highbury House. Once she was “determined to be an excellent caretaker of the grounds,” but the war has changed everything.

I enjoyed the camaraderie of women trying to save the gardens during the war, when the government issues “the agricultural requisition of all unused land at Highbury House.”

It was interesting to read about the requisition of properties and land during the war. And about the so called land girls.

The characters I warmed up to the most are the three women living during the war. Diana grieves her husband who was a doctor. So she knows that it would make her husband happy to know that their house is being used for the wounded soldiers. Even though, it doesn’t make her happy. Beth, after losing her parents at young age, grew up with her aunt, who provided a roof over her head, but never expressed love. Now, on the farm, through her hard work she receives the kindest of words from the farmer she works for and her happiness makes your heart swell. Stella takes care of her sister’s son at the time. She is stuck at the Highbury House for the time being. But she does have her dreams. She wants to explore the world that is out there beyond what she is acquainted with.

Overall, the prose is enjoyable. The pace is good. If you enjoy romance stories, there is plenty of it in this book.
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This is a book about three different generations of women in England all set in the same place.  We read about their lives in Warwickshire at Highbury House.
Venetia Smith's chapter begins talking about how a garden project inspres her. "Each new garden is like an unread book, it's pages brimming with possibilty."

Beth's story is set in 1944.  She is a land girl and moves from Dorking to Warwickshire, settling in on a farm and loving it. Beth's back story told how she was orphaned as a young girl, taken in my her aunt but never shown love or support.  Her aunt had a duty to her and while she was fed and clothed, it was clear she had no emotional attachment to niece.  

Getting assigned as a land girl to a country couple who showed approval and kindness changed her life.  Her chapters at Highbury House during the war were interesting.

In present day, 2021 actually, Emma Lovell has a business called Turning Back Thyme where she designs gardens and also does her favorite thing, restorations.  Her inspiration is Venetia who originally designed the lush and complex gardens at Highbury House back in 1906.  I enjoyed getting to know Emma as she started to join in with village events such as the weekly pub quiz.  The team she ended up on was called Menace to Sobriety, I thought that was very funny.

The gardens are an entity in it's own as much of the story focuses on the designs and restoration of the terraced "rooms". A tea garden where polite company meet leads to the lover's garden brimming with flowers and plants in hues of passionate reds and pinks, then the bridal garden, the children's garden and the winter garden.  In Venetia's time is was being designed, Beth came along while the house was requisitioned as a hosital and the gardens were in a state of wildness.  Emma had the restoration job of trying to find out what it orginally looked like.  As the stories interwined I was unable to put this book down.  Dinner was late last night because I was near the end and had to finish!

This is my first experience with this author and I plan to seek out more of her work.  Julia Kelly did her research about requistioned houses during WW II and provided us with titles ot read more on that subject at the end of her book.

While I am not a fan of straight out romance novels, this book had just enough of the romantic element to work well within the storyline. I loved the ending and all mysteries about the people and the Winter Garden were solved.

Thank you to Netgalley for the advanced reader copy.  This is scheduled for publication 12 January 2021.  The genre is historical ficion and women's fiction.

Sharing with Joy's Book Blog for the British Isles Friday linkup.
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