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Unearthed: Love, Acceptance, and Other Lessons from an Abandoned Garden

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  361 ratings  ·  78 reviews
In this moving memoir, a woman digs into a garden and into the past and finds secrets, beauty, and acceptance.

Alex’s father dies just as she and her husband buy a nondescript house set atop an acre of wilderness that extends into a natural gorge in the middle of the city. Choked with weeds and crumbling antique structures, the abandoned garden turned wild jungle stirs che
Hardcover, 277 pages
Published July 5th 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Average rating 3.76  · 
Rating details
 ·  361 ratings  ·  78 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Aug 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
3.5 A house bought, a huge overgrown garden that had once been part of a huge estate. As the treasures in the garden are uncovered so too does Alexandra try to uncover the lives of her Ukrainian immigrant parents, two people who argued extensively but never talked about their past lives. Part memoir, part family story, part gardening and the discovery of unique specimens in her new garden. Lovely book, much humor, some back story of two daughters who grew up with a father who never directly talk ...more
Apr 09, 2017 rated it liked it
It seems we are on a parallel path, my mother and I, of reliving the past – her in her memory and me in my research. Sadly, we each walk alone.

As Unearthed opens, Alexandra Risen is saying goodbye to her father as he lays comatose in his hospital bed; noting the fact that in the twenty years she lived at home, the brooding, reclusive man may have said one word to her per year. Now that her father was almost gone, Risen knew that those twenty or so words would be all she ever got. At about th
Kathleen Nightingale
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was a really enjoyable read. It allowed me to reflect on my youth growing up with a backyard in Toronto that backed onto a ravine. I have come to the conclusion that Alexandra Risen bought a home that backs onto the Bayview extension or Rosedale Valley Road. Areas of Toronto which bring back fond memories.

One of the quotes in the book is:

A garden is a state of mind. Tranquil sanctuary for walks work play reading and laughter. A place to find receptive and remember your core of self. To
Jun 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
The second daughter of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, Alexandra Risen saw the way they valued the land and their meager possessions. It wasn't a lesson she internalized until much later, however, when she and her husband purchased a home with huge gardening potential. Beginning with the death of her father - whom she tells us only ever spoke 20 words to her - and ending with the death of her mother after a struggle with Alzheimer's, we see her come to grips with her upbringing by parents who su ...more
Vishal Katariya
Apr 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really lovely.
Jun 22, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Just as the author and her husband buy an acre property just outside downtown Toronto, her father dies. This doesn’t make much of a difference in Risen’s life; in her entire life he has hardly ever spoken to her. He didn’t ignore her; he would work on projects with her- silently. That was pretty much their only interaction. It wasn’t that he couldn’t speak; her parents had long, loud arguments all the time. Her mother, always working in the garden or putting food by, is now alone and getting fra ...more
May 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful book about life, largely, but also about a fabulous garden the author discovered after buying a home backing on to a ravine in Toronto. Wonderful and a real pleasure to read.
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
This summer, my wife and I moved our family into a home enveloped by trees on an acre of land just a block off Roosevelt Road in a near Chicago suburb. So I wanted to love this book about a family moving into their own magical acre near downtown Toronto, and I like the meticulous way Risen approaches both her garden and her writing. But this was just too hippy-dippy for me. I read to the end, but it kept getting more and more cringe-worthy, capped by a ceremony where Risen's family is dragged in ...more
Pat Mills
I loved this book. Alexandra Risen has written a universal gardeners story and immigrants life lesson and parenting in nature lessons one thru ten all in one book. It is rather extraordinary how many of its themes touch my own life and interests right now. The decisions of palliative care, a good death, silence about the war, not being a boy, finding craftsmen who share your vision enough to fill in the unknowns, the joy of discovery, ... the list is long. And yet the chapters flow quite natural ...more
Diane Schuller
Dec 24, 2016 rated it liked it
I really should not have read this over such a long stretch of time -- it was in-between reading and late-night before-bed so I may have an unfairly jaded view for that reason.

I enjoyed her writing style but felt that sometimes too much detail was spent on the garden aspect. And I'm a gardener! I did enjoy how she finally brought things together and, especially what she got out of her gardening and how it helped her deal with her life with her parents, and her sister to a degree as well.

Hard to
Angie Vancise
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Risen's narrative throughout this memoir is witty and genuine as she takes the reader on a regeneration of a backyard garden in a city where backyards have become a thing of the past. Her use of flowers and shrubs, herbs etc to describe scenes and emotions were clever and gave me goosebumps. The descriptions painted a vivid image of just what the backyard grew to be after a ton of blood, sweat and tears went into it. I found it funny and I couldn't put it down. I have used a couple of the recipe ...more
Jul 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
I loved this book - the match between the book and the reader is terrific for a start. I'm still amazed that an acre abandoned garden could be in the middle of downtown Toronto! What a crazy amount of work with the pagoda, the koi and duck ponds, aggressive invasive weeds ... I find Alex Risen to be disarmingly honest about mistakes of parenting or occasional petulance (we aren't always perfect, are we!) as well as her having to come to terms with her parents doing the best they could even thoug ...more
This was an engrossing tale which twined together Risen's search for her family background, the death of her mother and the resurrection of a derelict garden and pagoda in a Toronto ravine. Well written, deep, honest, poignant. Risen acknowledges and is grateful for the blessings in her life. I kept thinking, "These people must be very rich to hire all these people to fix up this garden and pagoda and to travel back and forth to Edmonton." Cam must make a lot of money because there is never a me ...more
Pegi Eyers
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed "Unearthed" and the many themes related to nature immersion, plant knowledge, gardening and earth remediation. Also of incredible importance is the discussion around reconnecting to our ancestry, as so much of our heritage(s) in Canada were lost in diaspora, the immigration process and through Settler-Colonialism. I was incredibly moved by the author's honest memoir of this process in her own life. A truly beautiful book for our time! ...more
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was an enchanting read. The story is about a family moving into a house with a "wild backyard". As she strives to keep the wildness while cultivating a way to be able to move through the yard, she also shares stories of her family life. At times it was a wee bit pretentious (maybe I'm just jealous not to have endless amounts of $$ to do the work we need to do in our yard). But for the most part I really enjoyed it.
Jun 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, giveaways
* I received this book for free through Goodreads giveaways*

As a gardener and avid forager, I enjoyed reading about the experiences of Alexandra Risen and her family with their garden. I loved the inclusion of the recipes for foraged foods- and can't wait to try some of them for myself. Beautiful memoir, recommend!
Lynn Wyvill
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm sitting in a lovely space of book completion, where I can say, "Ah, what a lovely book." The author wove together her history, her love and concerns for her son and her relationship with her partner into a lumpy and real story. The garden evolves as life does, with unexpected turns and surprising joys. And I'm left with satisfaction and hope for my own unwieldy garden of living. ...more
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
The author and her husband purchase a home with an overgrown ravine in their backyard. Over multiple years they reclaim and restore it with the help of numerous hired workers and volunteers. Nature enriches them and their son. Juxtaposed in this memoir is the author's loss of first her father and then her mother, as she seeks to learn about her parents' past in the Ukraine.
Diana Smith
Oct 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Intimate, genuine, soulful and bare, this memoir hit home. Not just for gardeners (although any horticultural interest, from experienced to amateur, will appreciate), Risen’s is a story for mothers, for daughters, for those searching for a connection to their homeland, their history, their roots and their futures.

Beautiful. A Canadian gem.
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Don't start this book if you have other things to do like work or eating. I picked it up from the library where it had been on a display and I happened to see it. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. Odd for the genre, but true nonetheless. Perfect for a rainy or snowy day when you can't get out to garden. ...more
Stephanie Abrams
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As an avid gardener, I identified with the author some of the challenges I have experienced with my garden. Having recently lost both my parents, this book really hit home in the sense of learning where you came from and keeping my parents' memories alive. Thank you for a wonderful story. ...more
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
It's the perfect time of year to read about a garden restoration. And it's even better that I didn't do any of the work. The author did a wonderful job of transporting me to her garden. This also has a little more depth with her struggles with her parents. ...more
Julia Alleyne
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great memoir. Even more meaningful if you have any of the following threads in your life...a garden, lived in Toronto, eastern European blood, parents and children, trying to understand marriage. Through the garden, each chapter reveals more and more of life's truths. ...more
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Love, death, grief...restoring a garden as well as a past. I liked this book a lot, the writing, the people, the plants, the pond. Being the eldest child of immigrants to Canada in 1959 I related to a lot of Risen's memories, her childhood. Glad I picked this one up. ...more
Aug 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful written! A heartfelt story.
Oct 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent on so many fronts! Highly recommend.
Carrie C
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! Reminded me a bit about my grandparents garden in Toronto.
Olga Vannucci
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
How being Ukrainian
Is much like gardening.
Marie A
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
The story is great to listen too, Hilary Huber is my favorite narrator.
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Alexandra loves nature and is a closet geologist. She lives and gardens with her husband and rescued dog, Hunter. UNEARTHED is her first book.

2018 Shortlist: The Kobzar Literary Award
2018 Shortlist: The Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors

"As she restores the property and heals her long-troubled soul, Risen paints a vivid and exquisite portrait of nature and its profound significance." -Publishe

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