The Last Garden in England – by Julia Kelly – book review

Note: I was given early access to this book through netgalley.com in exchange for writing an impartial review. Scheduled release: January 12, 2021.

As a lover of historical fiction, I’m sorry to say this historical novel did not do much for me. Maybe it’s because I’m not a gardener. But despite what the book description promises, I did not find this either “poignant” or “unforgettable”. Awarded three stars on Goodreads.

Like many contemporary fiction books written these days, this one uses that tried-and-true (in my opinion, overused) device of telling three narratives, from different periods of time, that only come altogether at the very end of the book.

• 1907. A little-known-but-soon-to-be-famous garden designer, Venetia Smith, specializes in long-neglected gardens. She is working to design elaborate gardens for famous Highbury House, a Downtown Abbey type home for British landed aristocrats.

• 1944. Like many large homes, Highbury House has been requisitioned by the government for use as a convalescent hospital for injured World War II soldiers. Recently-widowed homeowner Diana Symonds is not only dealing with her own grief, her young son, and a domineering sister-in-law, she is also managing the house staff and trying to maintain some semblance of a normal home life. And she is working with a number of “land girls”, small town civilians working in agriculture to contribute to the war effort.

• 2020. Emma Lovett, a deep lover of history, runs a small gardening company specializing in restoring overgrown gardens to their original design. The opportunity to work at Highbury House is a dream come true. As is the looming prospect of a job offer that would free Emma from all those business-owning tasks she hates doing.

Weaving back and forth between time, we follow the stories of these three women and a few others as they navigate war, tragedy, dances, romances, pregnancy, and all manner of secrets and British class prejudice.

Julia Kelly

It sounds like a decent enough premise. Only, for at least half the book, I found it difficult to remember who was who as the author jumped back and forth in time. There are lots of people, multiple romances to track, and too many of the characters didn’t seem particularly distinctive to me. I rarely felt any emotion for any of them.

BUT, I will close by suggesting that reading this novel might be a totally different experience… if you love gardening.

More about the author, Julia Kelly.