For harried garden designer Emma Lovell, restoring the grand gardens at Highbury House is a dream job: she's walking in the footsteps of her heroine, Venetia Smith, the garden's original architect. But as Emma tackles the overgrown plants and other tasks, she also begins unearthing secrets. Julia Kelly's third historical novel, The Last Garden in England, weaves together Emma's present-day story with Venetia's time at the garden in 1907, as well as the lives of three women during World War II.
Kelly (The Light over London) tells her story in three timelines and five narrative voices, using the garden to bind them together. Her characters share a fierce determination to lead their own lives, no matter what society thinks: Venetia faces serious prejudice as a female landscape designer, but her striking garden rooms at Highbury House reflect her skill. Diana Symonds, the widowed owner of the house in the 1940s, struggles to mother her son and deal with the exigencies of having wounded soldiers on the premises. Beth Pedley, a shy land girl, begins to find a community in Highbury, and Stella Adderton, a young cook, dreams of travel and a professional career. In the present day, as Emma fights to keep her business afloat, she makes some discoveries that throw new light on the choices made by all four women, and that may help illuminate her own way forward. Lushly described, with complex relationships and plenty of romance, Kelly's narrative is a satisfying walk down the garden path. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dream