Gardens of Fictional Delight

A classic rose garden.  Photo by Ignacio Correia, via Unsplash

Happy National Gardening Day, everyone!  My first thought when I realized that today's "holiday" was coming up was to share some of my favorite books of gardening advice, but as I was flipping through my previous articles, I realized that I've written no fewer than five other gardening articles during my time at Brilliant Books!  So with most of my nonfiction favorites already taken care of, I thought it might be nice to share instead some tales of fictional gardens.  These gardens may not put vegetables on the table or flowers in a vase, but they're certainly the easiest to keep weeded!



The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

An older book, but a good one.  Lately, as I work in the gardens and flowerbeds at my new house, I've found myself reminiscing about this book more and more.  It's a sweet and sometimes sad story about a foster child who's grown up but can't leave her life before entirely behind.  She uses the language of flowers that her foster mother taught her to try and express the emotions for which she—and, it turns out, many others—have no words.  Despite the modern setting, there are slightly gothic tones to the story, reminiscent of Diane Setterfield.  Read More

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The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

"Yun Ling Teoh, the lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the tea plantations of Cameron Highlands. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its creator, Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in memory of her sister, who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice so she can design a garden for herself.  Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to the gardener  while all around them a communist guerilla war rages. But who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?"  Read More

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The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

Okay, this one isn't actually fiction, but given the narrative nature, I thought I could allow it to find its way onto the list.  Personally, I have precisely one orchid, and he is needy enough that I can't imagine collecting more!  But supplying orchid collectors is a big business, and not, as Orlean explores, always a particularly savory one, especially when it comes to the rarest and most exotic specimens.  Combining a bit of true crime with environmentalism and plenty of human foibles, this is a story that sinks its roots in and lingers long after the last page.  Read More

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The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

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.

"Kelly's novel encompasses everything I love in historical fiction: a dramatic setting depicted so vividly I could've sworn I was strolling through the gardens of Highbury House as I turned the pages, and a series of stories that intertwine each other effortlessly, echoing the theme of love lost and found. A delight." —Fiona Davis, nationally bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue.  Read More

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The Kew Gardens Girls by Posy Lovell

The Kew Garden Girls by Posy Lovell

London, 1916. England is at war. Desperate to help in whatever way they can, Ivy and Louisa enlist as gardeners at Kew, the Royal Botanic Gardens, taking on the jobs of the men who have gone to fight. Under their care, the gardens begin to flourish and become a safe haven for those seeking solace--but not everyone wants women working at Kew.

The pair begin to face challenges on the home front. When a tragedy overseas affects the people closest to them, can the women of Kew pull together to support themselves and their country through the darkest of times?  
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The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

The Victory Garden by Rhys Bown

Headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.  When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a "land girl," tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It's here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden.  In the wake of devastating news, the journals are her saving grace. Emily's lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified--and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.  As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny.  Read More

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The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

Lilian Girvan has been a single mother for three years—ever since her husband died in a car accident. One mental breakdown and some random suicidal thoughts later, she’s just starting to get the hang of this widow thing. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work, and watch TV like a pro. The only problem is she’s becoming overwhelmed with being underwhelmed.  At least her textbook illustrating job has some perks—like that vegetable-gardening class her boss signed her up for. Apparently, being the chosen illustrator for a series of boutique vegetable guides means getting your hands dirty, literally. Wallowing around in compost on a Saturday morning can’t be much worse than wallowing around in pajamas and self-pity.  After recruiting her kids and insanely supportive sister to join her, Lilian shows up at the Los Angeles botanical garden feeling out of her element. But what she’ll soon discover—with the help of a patient instructor and a quirky group of gardeners—is that into every life a little sun must shine, whether you want it to or not...  Read More

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Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip

Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip

I think millenials have largely missed out on the glory that is Patricia McKillip's writing, something that I am slowly working to remedy.  We were just a tiny bit too young to have caught her most recent batch of publications in the mid to late 2000s, but I lucked out and happened across one of her books at the library when I was in my teens and exploring beyond the YA section.  There's something deeply familiar about her fantasies, and this one in particular, which centers on gardener Brenden Vetch, feels wonderfully comforting even in a world filled with political and magical intrigues.  Read More

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Garden Stories from Everyman's Pocket Classics

Garden Stories From Everyman's Pocket Classics

Due to hit shelves on May 24th, this collection of bite-sized works is perfect for enjoying outside.  I've been trying to make a point of spending more time in my gardens when I'm not actively working on them—time spent just enjoying them as they are in all their imperfect glory.  I think I'll pick up a copy of this and read among my flowerbeds each day.

"Spectacular gardens are viewed from the perspective of a sheltered teenage girl in Katherine Mansfield’s 'The Garden-Party.' The family in Doris Lessing’s 'Flavours of Exile' hauls succulent vegetables and fruits from the rich African soil, and Colette in 'Bygone Spring' luxuriates in extravagantly blooming flowers. Children discover their own peculiar paradises in Sandra Cisneros’s 'The Monkey Garden' and Italo Calvino’s 'The Enchanted Garden,' while adult gardeners find things that move and haunt them in William Maxwell’s 'The French Scarecrow' and Jamaica Kincaid's 'The Garden I Have in Mind.'"  Read More

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Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf

Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf

On this list, we've already seen tales of Kew Gardens at war, but Virgina Woolf's classic shows a gentler side.  Woolf crafts a narrative that weaves together visitors to the gardens, offering glimpses into their lives like flowers tucked into flowerbeds:

“White butterflies danced one above another, making with their white shifting flakes the outline of a shattered marble column above the tallest flowers; the glass roofs of the palm house shone as if a whole market full of shiny green umbrellas had opened in the sun; and in the drone of the aeroplane the voice of the summer sky murmured its fierce soul.”  Read More

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The Forbidden Garden by Ellen Herrick

The Forbidden Garden by Ellen Herrick

A walled garden on an English estate?  A garden that might be cursed?  Count me in!  So often gardens are pictured as idyllic and wholesome, but I love when they have a darker edge, too.  I visited the poison garden at Blarney Castle once, and I that was immediately what sprang to mind when I pictured a cursed garden.  Of course, the garden in Herrick's tale isn't quite that ominous, but the challenge of a garden that refuses to thrive will certainly pose a challenge for talented gardener Sorrell Sparrow!  Read More

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The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair

There's something about gardens that seems to evoke family secrets, and this magical tale set in India is no exception. 

"Nair chronicles the redemptive journey of a young woman unsure of her engagement, who revisits in memory the events of one scorching childhood summer when her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her home to an Indian village untouched by time, where she discovers in the jungle behind her ancestral house a spellbinding garden that harbors a terrifying secret."  Read More

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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

No list of garden stories would be complete without this classic, and I couldn't resist including this absolutely gorgeous edition.  I love the Chiltern Classics line, which features familiar classics all dressed up.  Beautiful embossed covers, gilded edges, and ribbon bookmarks make these books to treasure not only for their stories, but also their shelf appeal!  Read More

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Beauty by Robin McKinley

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Gardens often play a pivotal role in fairy tales, but the descriptions of the rose gardens in this glorious retelling of Beauty and the Beast really steal the show.  This is one of my all-time favorite versions of the story, and if you love horses, roses, plucky heroines, or fairy tale retellings, I suggest you check this one out!  Read More

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