cover image The Last Garden in England

The Last Garden in England

Julia Kelly. Gallery, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-1-982107-82-6

Three women across time are connected by a garden in Kelly’s enjoyable and richly detailed latest (after The Whispers of War). In 1907, Venetia Smith is hired to design elaborate gardens for the Highbury House estate in Warwickshire. In 1944, Beth Pedley works there as a land girl. For both women, the gardens become scenes of loss and grief, tragedies that are hidden until landscaper Emma Lovett reconstructs the history of the grounds while restoring them in 2021. Venetia falls in love with a young botanist while renovating the garden, and after she becomes pregnant, the career she had worked for and the life she hoped to build are threatened by his controlling sister. Later, as WWII envelops Britain and Highbury House is turned into a hospital, Beth’s tense relationship with the house mistress, Diana Symonds, becomes a shared dedication to protect the gardens from the ravages of war. While much of the narrative is given over to describing the design and work of gardening, Kelly balances Emma’s detective work reviewing papers and records found in the house with Venetia’s slow-burn tragedy and the twist that defines Beth’s relationship to the gardens. Kelly easily delivers everything her fans will expect. (Jan.)