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The Last Garden in England

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Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.

1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her ambitious work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens—and the people she meets—promise to change her life forever.

1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published January 12, 2021

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About the author

Julia Kelly

21 books1,731 followers
Julia Kelly is the international bestselling author of historical fiction and historical mystery novels about the extraordinary stories of the past. Her books have been translated into 13 languages. In addition to writing, she’s been an Emmy-nominated producer, journalist, marketing professional, and (for one summer) a tea waitress. Julia called Los Angeles, Iowa, and New York City home before settling in London.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,323 reviews
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,071 reviews2,676 followers
February 17, 2023
The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly
Narrated by Shiromi Arserio, Marisa Calin, Danielle Cohen, Katherine Littrell, and Siobhan Waring

What a lovely story that challenged me a bit with it's three time periods and many characters. We never stay in one place very long and that seemed to help me not lose track of the many people we meet. The connection between the times is both a garden and bloodlines (or not).

In 1907, Venetia Smith has made a reputation for herself as the designer of gardens for the wealthy. Her designs are innovative and her latest commission is to design the gardens of Highbury House. Her reputation is her most coveted asset and she guards it as such. It is when she meets the brother of the lady of the house that things go very wrong.

In 1944, orphaned Beth Pedley has been pushed from her aunt's home to find her own way. She is a land girl now and she will be working on a farm outside of the village of Highbury. She comes to love this life and this place, she gains friends and people she cares about and who care about her. It's as if she was made for this hard work and feeling of belonging and but she'll have to speak up to keep this life.

In the present day, Emma Lovett restores forgotten and neglected gardens. She is thrilled to be hired to restore the Highbury House estate gardens, which had been design by Venetia Smith, whose work she so much admires. To restore the gardens to their original state Emma needs to know as much as she can about the gardens' past.

The distinctive voices of the five narrators helped me to slip into each timeline. My favorite timeline was that of 1944 but all three of them are interesting and by the end of the book I understood how everything was connected. The 1907 timeline is Venetia's story and the present day timeline is Emma's story, but the 1944 timeline focuses on many more people and that is the heart of the story for me. Being in the midst of WWII and with the estate being requisitioned to aid the wartime efforts, there is even the threat that the gardens will be plowed under. That is when widowed estate owner widow Diana Symonds puts her foot down. Present day Emma has so many questions about the past and one curiosity is what has happened to the key to the overgrown winter garden. Slowly the past unfolds for her and the reader.

Pub Jan 12, 2021
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,089 reviews30.1k followers
January 15, 2021
Quick thoughts:

The Last Garden in England has three timelines: the present day, the early 1900s, and the 1940s, and I loved them all, and these strong female characters. Set in Scotland at a historic garden at Highbury House over these three timelines, first it must be designed, and later on, it must be restored. It also served as a hospital.

There’s also a romance at the heart of the story. The setting is as gorgeous as you’d imagine with this cover. A story of friendship, loss, secrets, and heartbreak, The Last Garden in England was a charming and captivating read.

I received a gifted copy.

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.Jennifer tarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,422 reviews538 followers
April 6, 2021
I'm free! Half-finished, I dropped this draggy book into the library return bin. After putting up with dozens of lifeless characters in three historical periods over 160 pages, I feel pure happiness at putting an end to it. Now, I get to decide what to read next!
Profile Image for Debbie W..
709 reviews457 followers
January 12, 2023
Why I chose to listen to this audiobook:
1. I love gardening, especially around my flower beds and water garden, so I added this book to my WTR list back in 2021; and,
2. my audiobook hold became available on cloudLibrary.

1. I was captivated to hear about the lives of five women from 1907, 1944, and 2021 and how they are interwoven around the fictional Highbury House gardens;
2. as a gardener myself, I was fascinated by the descriptions fictional garden designer, Venetia Smith gave to the various garden "rooms" she planned for Highbury House;
3. I imagined the mysterious "Winter Garden" much like The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett;
4. even though romance does play a role in this story, it didn't feel so overwhelming as it did in Kelly's book The Light Over London. The garden is front and center in all the plots. Kelly does an accurate job describing various trees, shrubs, and perennials, as well as gardening techniques, such as grafting and cross-pollination;
5. the 1944 section strongly reminded me of the beloved TV series and movies, Downton Abbey (e.g. strong female characters, the upstairs/downstairs classes, the manor turned into a convalescent hospital during WWII). Heck, some of the narrators even sounded a lot like the actresses on this show! (Note: they're not the same.)
6. several years ago, a British colleague explained how all available (i.e. "unused") land was confiscated in order to grow vegetable crops during WWII, but I never knew what a "land girl" was in WWII England until I read this book; and,
7. Julia Kelly does a fine job explaining her inspiration for this book in her "Author's Note".

Small Niggles:
1. the title somewhat confuses me! Why "Last Garden"? "Lost" Garden may have been more suitable; and,
2. as each chapter title is read, a slight stutter occurs before the name is said in full. Sound editing should have fixed this issue.

Overall Thoughts:
I really enjoyed learning about historical concepts and events centered around a passion of mine - gardening!

If you enjoy historical fiction and/or gardening, you may appreciate checking out this story!
Profile Image for Annette.
743 reviews323 followers
September 2, 2021
3.5 stars

England, 2021. Emma is commissioned to restore a historic garden at Highbury House. She strives for historical accuracy in re-creating a garden. And that’s the part I enjoyed the most in this story. The process of finding any kind of trace, a drawing or a picture, that would lead her in the right direction. The story is also consumed by her relationship with her parents. And her mom’s regret that Emma didn’t go to college. Instead, she took a course in garden design and opened her own company, which her mother doesn’t applaud as she doesn’t see it as having a stable life.

1907. Venetia Smith is commissioned to design a garden at Highbury House. She finds the owners - her employers challenging. Brother of the owners breeds roses. Her designing a garden and him breeding some roses lead to a romantic relationship.

The concept of designing a garden, then its restoration is a very original premise. And I was looking forward to those two stories. But I didn’t feel that the designing and restoration process came through in those two stories. They were more absorbed by something else. At the end, the story I expected the least from turned out to be the most interesting.

1944. During the war, the Highbury House is being used as a convalescent hospital.

Beth, after finishing her training at the agricultural college, the city girl travels to the country to become a land girl. While delivering produce to the Highbury House hospital, she takes a look at the garden rooms and “their surprising little nooks and crannies.” She gets an itch to sketch them.

Stella is a cook at the Highbury House hospital. But she has bigger dreams.

Diana Symonds is the owner of the Highbury House. Once she was “determined to be an excellent caretaker of the grounds,” but the war has changed everything.

I enjoyed the camaraderie of women trying to save the gardens during the war, when the government issues “the agricultural requisition of all unused land at Highbury House.”

It was interesting to read about the requisition of properties and land during the war. And about the so called land girls.

The characters I warmed up to the most are the three women living during the war. Diana grieves her husband who was a doctor. So she knows that it would make her husband happy to know that their house is being used for the wounded soldiers. Even though, it doesn’t make her happy. Beth, after losing her parents at young age, grew up with her aunt, who provided a roof over her head, but never expressed love. Now, on the farm, through her hard work she receives the kindest of words from the farmer she works for and her happiness makes your heart swell. Stella takes care of her sister’s son at the time. She is stuck at the Highbury House for the time being. But she does have her dreams. She wants to explore the world that is out there beyond what she is acquainted with.

Overall, the prose is enjoyable. The pace is good. If you enjoy romance stories, there is plenty of it in this book.

Source: ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Carole.
488 reviews107 followers
February 1, 2021
The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly is captivating historical fiction, which takes place in a country well-known for its beautiful gardens. The plot unwinds over three different time periods. In 1907, Venetia is hired by the owners of Highbury House, to design a series of gardens on the estate. It was unusual for a woman to work in this profession in those days. In 1944, Beth leaves the city to become a land girl, helping farmers produce food during WWII. While there, she befriends a cook at Highbury House, which by then is owned by Diana Symonds, a young widow. In 2021, Emma is hired to breathe new life into the neglected gardens of Highbury House. While researching the history of the gardens, Emma will discover old plans from 1907 and photos and documents from 1944. Secrets will slowly begin to unravel and a century of events will lead her to understand the history of the old gardens and find kinship with the lives of the women who were associated with the estate gardens. The Last Garden in England is a flower that slowly opens to reveal its beauty. This is a book that can be re-read with pleasure. Highly recommended. Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada, Net Galley and the author for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Darla.
3,259 reviews488 followers
December 30, 2020
It happened again. I am on my elliptical multi-tasking cardio with reading. At about 83% I was weeping. Julia Kelly, you have a winner. Why have I waited so long to pick up one of your books? There are two others on my TBR list. I have been missing out. This is such a wonderful tapestry with threads from three timelines and all based on a garden. Not just any garden, though. This grand garden is a masterpiece conceived in 1907 by Venetia Smith -- don't you just love that name? The plans included enclosed spaces that represent the wife of a woman beginning with a Tea Garden, then a Bride's Garden, a Children's Garden, etc. And that Winter Garden -- what an evocative place it is. I can just see it. At first the locked door made me think of the evil garden in Ruth Ware's 'The Turn of the Key,' but this one more of a spiritual refuge and very key to the plot. This was such a lovely book to pick up in the dead of winter with sleet and freezing rain flying outside my windows. If you love Kate Morton, Susan Meissner, and Kristin Hannah this book is for you.

Many thanks to Gallery Books and Edelweiss+ for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Marilyn.
775 reviews210 followers
February 19, 2021
I listened to the audiobook of The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly on Overdrive. It was brilliantly narrated by Shiromi Arserio, Marisa Calin, Danielle Cohen, Katherine Littrell and Siobhan Waring. This book captured the lives, hopes and desires of five different but very strong women. These women were connected by the lure and love of one very special garden. They lived during three different and distinct time periods.The gardens came to life through these women and influenced, impacted and connected their lives in very different yet similar ways. The cover of The Last Garden in England was beautiful. Julia Kelly masterfully created a touching and heart warming book that boasted impressive research.

Emma Lovett had been commissioned to restore the gardens of Highbury House in present day time. The gardens of Highbury House were first designed by renowned designer, Venetia Smith in the 1907. Emma held Venetia Smith in the highest regard and was determined to restore the gardens as Venetia had first intended them to be. Venetia skillfully imagined each garden as its own entity. With the help of the new home owners and the handsome young man who lived on the neighboring farm the original plans and photos were found to help Emma accomplish this. The one puzzle was the Winter Garden. Why was it locked and what was it initially intended to be?

The third timeline occurred during World War II. It was a time when lives were lost, men were away fighting the war, and women were relied on more and more to fill some of the jobs once held by men. Diana Symonds had become a widow when her husband was killed in the war. Now the mistress of Highbury House, she had given permission to make part of the house into a Convalescent Hospital for injured soldiers. Diana’s story and that of her cook, Stella Adderton and the land girl, Beth Pedley all became intertwined and connected around the mysterious Winter Garden.

The Lost Garden in England was beautifully written and featured strong and dominant women characters. It was a captivating and compelling historical fiction novel that captured my heart. The themes of love, loss, hope, secrets and friendships were prevalent. The gardens represented joy and peace but also sadness and loss. I enjoyed reading this book very much and recommend it very highly.

Profile Image for Susan - on semi hiatus.
410 reviews111 followers
March 27, 2021
Parade of Roses

After searching visuals of English gardens, I discovered several beautiful photos which added ambiance to reading this wonderful book!

However, everything isn’t coming up roses as the characters face challenges and decisions:

In February 1907, Venetia Smith was hired to design the gardens of prestigious Highbury House. The prickly ‘old money’ proprietress becomes Venetia’s boss and a figurative thorn in her side - pun intended.

An avowed bachelorette at thirty five, Venetia is focused on designing, her love of gardening, and being outdoors. When Mrs. Melcourt insists that Venetia incorporate her brother's roses into the garden plans, Venetia silently seethes but meets with Mr. Goddard as requested.

In 1944 at the height of the war, Highbury House was requisitioned to be used as a military hospital. A place for wounded soldiers to recuperate. The beloved gardens designed by the now famous Venetia Smith are in danger of being torn up and used as crop land.

The estate has passed down through the family and Diane Melcourt is charged with holding it all together. She’s met with resistance from her deceased husband’s sister who has moved herself into the house and is on the verge of a coup.

These were the most complicated sections of the book but the most interesting and fleshed out in my opinion. Sorting the numerous characters and their stories was well worth the effort as there were many touching moments.

Lastly, we have present day Emma who’s hired to restore the gardens and is intent on discovering the secrets of the Winter Garden. She’s long been a fan of Venetia Smith and is overjoyed to be on the project.

Three timelines and multiple characters challenged me for the first portions of the book. However, it became cohesive as the stories verged around the Highbury estate, family secrets, and the farm next door.

The creative passion of the main characters - two garden designers and a painter spoke to me with their insightful determination and the artistic aspect was especially appealing.

I loved this! I would recommend it to those liking historical fiction, resourceful women, and a bit of intricacy. The sophisticated writing drew me in and I’d like to read more by this author.

I purchased a lovely hardback copy from Amazon.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,217 reviews550 followers
January 16, 2021
2.5 stars rounded up for the endless garden detailing which I loved and enjoyed.

Three time periods with up to a dozen characters each and with the great majority of those being women? And all of these flipping quickly and continually? Depth just became lost as did 75% of the surnames and nickname or title features.

This is romance. But holds almost no heat in the telling. Opposite of something that truly does, like Outlander, for instance. And you get even less savvy or quick wit attraction in flirting or suggestion on top of it. Women get pregnant but I was left with perplexing voids of nuance for "how". There is next to none of the come hither banter as in a Lofts or any of those sexy, quirky Edwardians either.

I am actually shocked at the ratings here for this one. It's rather a pleasant book. But each period doesn't feel "true" to majority mores or moods. Especially the 1944 one which stresses food shortages more than the earned grief.

Strange balance - other than the garden designs I felt total surface views and hardly any soul. With all of that short attention span switching I felt like it was suffering from A.D.D throughout and hardly hung together as one story.

Only the stages of surviving garden linked. This is not a book for everyone.I would say chick lit lovers only. Doing pollination of hybrid roses is not as easy as this described exercise. Fiction indeed.
Profile Image for MicheleReader.
682 reviews124 followers
January 11, 2021
I was totally and delightfully transported to the country estate created by author Julia Kelly in The Last Garden in England. Many of the historical fiction books I’ve read and enjoyed take place in dual timelines. This book immerses us in three periods of time where we meet five fascinating women all connected by the massive garden of Highbury House.

In present day, Emma Lovett is hired to restore the once magnificent garden of the large home, which is undergoing a major renovation. Emma’s research takes her back to 1907 when her idol, designer Venetia Smith, created Highbury House’s themed garden rooms including the Winter Garden, which was now locked with no key to access it. The third timeline brings us to 1944 and wartime. Highbury House has been partially converted into a convalescent hospital for soldiers. Diana Symonds, the lady of the house, is newly widowed. Her story, as well as that of her cook Stella Adderton and Beth Pedley, a young woman helping in the war effort as a “land girl,” all intertwine as their stories unfold revealing many secrets including the mystery of the Winter Garden.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Garden in England. It has everything I look for in this genre – an engaging story, characters to care about and a connection to the past. The rich description of the garden enhances the story making this a very appealing and entertaining book. Some of the character developments were a bit predictable but that didn’t bother me. Be sure to read the Author’s Note at the end to learn about the people, historical facts and existing gardens that inspired author Julia Kelly. Her website includes a rendering of the Highbury House garden as she imagined it, which was great to see while reading the book.

Many thanks to NetGalley, Gallery Books and the author for the opportunity to read The Last Garden in England in advance of its January 12, 2021 publication date.

Rated 4.5 stars.

Review posted on MicheleReader.com.

Profile Image for Grace A..
373 reviews40 followers
March 18, 2023
The too-many POVs were a bit disorienting at first. It took quite a bit to get to know the characters, but once I got my bearings with the characters, I fell in love with them. Another book club read that forced me out of my typical genre. I am now in love with gardens and cannot wait to explore this spring/summer.
The story was about one garden, five women across generations from 1907 to the present day. The garden revealed stories of discovery, joy, duty, passion, grief, love, new beginnings and abrupt endings etc. Each woman's story was unique, but my favorite era was the 1940's storyline.
It was a great read, but it did not keep me up at night; I had no problem leaving it for a couple of days and then picking it up again. My reading experience? Not too hot, not too cold, just right. 3 Stars.
Profile Image for ReadAlongWithSue .
2,660 reviews170 followers
December 5, 2022
This is a beautiful book under a beautiful cover written by a very good author whose talent it is to bring a story to life for her readers.

Dual timeline which I love. This comes together very well.

I felt like I was walking through those gardens and trying to save them myself with these women!

There is romance, there are struggles emotionally and with life.
There’s tears too, but, there is always hope.

I need to read more from this author. I love her style and historical fiction.

I listened to this on audio, a wonderful experience.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,286 reviews25 followers
February 13, 2021
I loved the concept of this book far more than the execution. I have always been curious about the concept and execution of a majestic, monumental British garden and the idea of following the history of a significant (if fictional) one for 100 years was really enticing.

But, somehow I didn't find the magic I was looking for in this book. The concept of a garden as a statement of wealth and "taste" was not new to me, but the lack of heart and emotion in the couple who commissioned "The Last Garden in England" created a chill in this novel that never left me. Their calculating personalities and business-like approach to what should have been a creative project dispersed in to the tone of the whole book. I never really felt the passion and creativity I expected to experience when I read about the garden. Perhaps that was intentional, but it detracted from the book for me.

This garden was never presented as a happy place, nor the project as an emotionally satisfying one for the designer or the owner. Although the book was garden-centric, it was more a story of love and loss---and women's aspirations. The garden was the foil for presenting these emotional issues, but it was really never the star of this book.

NETGALLEY provided me a complimentary copy of this book in return for a candid review.
Profile Image for Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews.
1,044 reviews1,368 followers
July 29, 2022
One thing that draws me to a book is an old house, and Highbury House sounded amazing.

And with the mention of many gardens, I was pulled in from the start.

We meet Emma, present day, who was commissioned to restore the gardens of Highbury House that were designed by Venetia Smith to what they looked like in 1907. Emma had no photos but did some research.

Emma’s work was definitely cut out here, but it was so exciting for her to be able to recreate these famous gardens.

We also meet two other women who had something to do with the gardens and Highbury House. Each time we meet one of the women, we find a little more about the garden, their lives, and their connection to it all.

Venetia Smith, 1907, was the original designer of the many gardens at the Highbury House Estate.

Beth Pedley, 1944, worked on a nearby farm. She would deliver goods to Highbury House and loved the gardens. She also wanted to and did sketch the gardens. These sketches were helpful to Emma.

These three women were easy to like, and I loved how the gardens were the main focus for all three of them.

There were many gardens filled with flowers that represented the name of each garden.

The different gardens were: The Tea Garden, The Lovers' Garden, The Bride's Garden, The Poet's Garden, The Children’s Garden, and The Winter Garden that was behind locked gates and Emma didn't know why.

No one knew why it was kept locked or where the key was, but you will find out when you read this lovely book.

Along with the beautiful writing of Ms. Kelly, the gardens, and the story line, there also is some romance in each time period.

If you enjoy Ms. Kelly's books, you will not want to miss this one. 5/5

This book was given to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Ellery Adams.
Author 59 books4,028 followers
April 3, 2021
4.5 stars. What a charming read. I loved every gardening detail and wish that there were more gardens designed as rooms according to Ms. Kelly's enchanting descriptions. I rarely like all the characters in a multiple POV novel equally, but Ms. Kelly created three very winsome women. The hardships were realistic and I rooted for all of them to find happiness. There were times when their voices sounded too similar, and since I listened to the audiobook, there were moments when I had to remember which woman I was hearing. This may have less to do with the narration than the writing, but I can't be sure. I would absolutely recommend this read to fans of historical women's fiction. I plan to gift it to my mom for Mother's Day.
Profile Image for Amy.
913 reviews228 followers
October 7, 2021
I really enjoyed this book. I heard it had mixed reviews, but it hit the spot for me. It's told from the point of view of five women during three separate timelines. I never felt this format was confusing, and always kept it straight. The women were in different positions, and in different eras. And they fit into each other's worlds.

I have never been a gardener myself, but I always appreciate the artistry with which they are written about, probably even more than I appreciate them visually. In my minds eye, the gardens are spectacular! It is a kind of art and spirituality mixed, and an everlasting legacy, that requires attention and relationship. Gardens do tell a story and link history.

I liked these five women. I liked their honesty, their thoughts, their hearts, and their creations amongst the positions each were in. Each era had a love story, and I was captivated by how much love and loss of all kinds wove through the tale, and was mirrored through the garden. There was also hope and possibility, along with loss and things long gone.

I also love that it was personally recommended to me, and that it was a hit. I have been waiting quite awhile to read it, and this was just the perfect time!
Profile Image for Fictionophile .
1,002 reviews326 followers
February 20, 2021
I've always been an admirer of gardens, so this novel appealed to me right away. The stunning cover also attracted my attention. Unlike many historical novels that feature a 'dual timeline', this one has a 'triple timeline' which the author skillfully weaves together.

Personally, I loved the World War II time line the most. My favourite characters were Beth Pedley and Diana Symonds.  Along with the three story lines, there were also three love stories which were integral to the novel.

There were many things about this novel that I loved. Not least the two little boys in the WWII story. The descriptions of the gardens and the grueling farm work was vividly portrayed.

The book highlights the way that the socioeconomic status of women has changed over the years by giving the reader a first hand look at some strong female protagonists.

The one thing that marred my enjoyment somewhat was the myriad characters. It was difficult at times to follow when the narrative jumped from storyline to storyline just who was being discussed. Some chapter headings helpfully stated the year, but all of them did not. The writing was such that I was immersed in the book, and it was a tad jarring when I was lifted from one story to another.

I believe that this book will be loved by many. Those who appreciate historical fiction, those who admire gardens, and those who enjoy timeless love stories, will all come under its spell. I look forward to reading more of this author's work.
Profile Image for Brenda.
128 reviews20 followers
January 22, 2021
This book tells the story of 3 different generations of women who were the architects of the gardens on one large country estate.

I found the stories interesting, especially related to the gardens. I'd never thought much about the large gardens on a country estate beside them being beautiful, so it was interesting to read of the first architect during the 1900s, the gardens being requisitioned during the war, and then current day, trying to reconstruct the original gardens.

Interwoven are stories of the the owners of the grand estate for the three generations and the events that unfold in those years. Most of the intervening stories are set during the War with some of the staff, land girls, soldiers and friends.

I like how it all folded together, and even with the three time periods, the stories blended well and I was able to keep it all together and know where I was at.

It's a lovely, cozy. sometimes sad, many times happy, slice of the life around an English Garden and I thought it an enjoyable read.
Profile Image for RoseMary Achey.
1,346 reviews
February 11, 2021
Thoroughly enjoyed this triple time period novel taking place in the early 1900’s, during WWII and currently. The main character is a lovely garden outside a sprawling estate.

The characters were very likable and there is a bit of a mystery involved. Julia Kelly has done it again-well done.
Profile Image for HalKid2.
549 reviews
January 16, 2021
Note: I was given early access to this novel in exchange for writing an impartial review. Scheduled Publication: 1/21/21.

Despite loving historical fiction, I'm sorry to say this one did not do much for me. Perhaps it's because I'm not a gardener. Despite what the book description promises, I did not find this either "poignant" or "unforgettable".

Like many new fiction books written these days, this one uses that tried-and-true (in my opinion, overused) device of telling multiple 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 the 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.

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.
Profile Image for Rachel.
2,036 reviews73 followers
September 10, 2020
The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly is an excellent historical fiction novel that is a triple timeline story that weaves together to create a beautiful and amazing book that kept me riveted from beginning to end.

I have been a huge fan of Ms. Kelly for quite a while now. I loved her previous two books: The Light Over London and The Whispers of War. When I saw that she had a new book coming out, I knew I had to read it. And it most certainly did not disappoint.

There were so many things I loved about this book:

1. The ability to take three separate stories from three different time periods, create excellent plots, and weave them all together seamlessly into a breathtaking end. All three time periods: early 1900s, 1940s, and 2021 were all excellent in their own rights. That in itself is hard to find. I enjoyed the development, the complexity, the mystery, the romance, the twists/turns/suspense, and the endings all equally.

2. I loved the full character cast. Ms. Kelly has outdone herself with a full array of fascinating characters. I loved Venetia, Emma, Diana, and even Stella (as hard as it was at some points to do so). There were so many more characters within each story to even mention, however each one was vital, complex, realistic, and fit perfectly. I loved how each woman was different in personality and place, yet all had similarities that the reader discovered throughout the book. Excellent.

3. I loved the central theme of the Highbury House Gardens. I was completely blown away and wonderfully immersed into a botanical dream. Learning about all of the plants, flowers, descriptions, history, colors, care, and design was a dream. It is clear that the author has done her research, and it showed in how she was able to create a literary masterpiece that made me feel as if I was actually walking among the paths feeling the dew on my legs as they brushed against the leaves, the silky petals against my skin as I touched the blossoms, and the smell of earth, leaves, ponds, and dampness as I wandered throughout the areas during each season. It was truly remarkable.

4. The ending. I LOVED it. It was perfect in every way and nothing else would have fit. Just perfect.

I also enjoyed the Author’s note at the end to give a bit more context as to what was fact vs fiction vs inspiration. I enjoyed that as well.

This was easily one of my favorite books this year, with Ms. Kelly being one of my favorite authors. She has most certainly done it again. Bravo.

5/5 stars enthusiastically

Thank you NetGalley and Gallery Books for this ARC and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

I am posting this review to my GR, Bookbub, and Instagram accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon and B&N accounts upon publication (and Instagram again).
Profile Image for Cindy Burnett (Thoughts from a Page).
556 reviews972 followers
January 27, 2021
Centered around the fictional Highbury House gardens, Julia Kelly takes the reader on a fascinating journey through these elaborate gardens across the span of over a century. Set in a triple timeline format, 1907, 1944, and 2021, The Last Garden in England follows five women whose lives are interwoven with the house and particularly the gardens. Kelly brings the gardens to life, and I often felt that I was right there with the characters among the plants and flowers due to her creative and beautiful descriptions. She uses just the right amount of detail, and it is easily apparent how much research Kelly conducted. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Want to hear more from Julia about this book? Listen to my podcast interview here: https://www.thoughtsfromapage.com/60. For more book reviews and book conversation, check out my Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/thoughtsfro....
Profile Image for DeB.
969 reviews247 followers
August 9, 2021
Four sweet stars. A gentle tale framed by an English manor country garden, perfect for a favourite nook and cup of tea. Many lives have found themselves impacted by the garden at Highbury House, designed for modernity by Venetia Smith in 1907. The wealthy of each era- 1907, 1944, 2021- each represent a layer of status, some of their worst ways of interacting with the working class and some of the best in the novel, alongside the aspirations of everyday people.

The tangled lives which develop as a result of creating, maintaining, being alongside or bringing back to life the Highbury House garden make for an entertaining story, against the history of each period. Gardeners will appreciate the plethora of plantings; the romance of the gardens heightened intimacy and love stories at every turn, even where war dashed dreams. A charming book.
Profile Image for Laura • lauralovestoread.
1,123 reviews230 followers
January 22, 2021
I am a long time reader of Historical Fiction, and was so excited to read this newest release by Julia Kelly. I love that the author dedicated this to her Father, who inspired her own love for gardening. It was Kelly who wrote one of my favorites, Light Over London, and I’m already falling back in love with her writing.

The dual timelines, a beautiful setting, compelling storyline that draws you in, and fascinating characters that I feel hold all the secrets to the past.

One of my favorite things about this was the garden that tied each woman and their stories together.

*many thanks to Gallery for the gifted copy
Profile Image for Genevieve Graham.
Author 13 books1,066 followers
September 29, 2020
Bestselling author Julia Kelly plants the seed of an idea, nurtures it into a vivid, intriguing seedling, then fertilizes, prunes, and shapes its various twisting branches into a stunning garden. Connected across the decades by a garden in desperate need of their care, three fascinating women grow alongside one another, shedding secrets and insecurities, eventually blooming with self-realization, hope, and love.
Profile Image for Emiliya Bozhilova.
1,201 reviews178 followers
December 26, 2021
”Градините не са само цветя”.

Не очаквах, че една английска градина може да бъде описана с толкова обич и детайли. Всъщност вече бях заподозряла, че “градинският” жанр има доста какво да предложи след магическата японска градина в “The garden of the evening mists”, и за мое щастие, над 100-годишната градина в измисленото имение Хайбъри постепенно разкр�� доста тайни.

Част от тайните са по градинарство - напълно непонятно ми, но доста трудоемко и благодатно изкуство, играещо си с вечната смяна на сезоните, с изобилието от пейзажи и послания, с несекващата борба с нетрайното и тленното, която те кара да запретваш ръкави ден след ден и да се цапаш в пръстта. Градината в книгата е истинско изобилие от картини, преливащи се в единен портрет на целия житейски път, щрихиран от рози, кокичета, хортензии, лавандула, брястове, беседки, морави и езерца. Доста различна концепция от азиатските градини, но всъщност не чак толкова.

Конкретната английска градина пази доста спомени от създаването си през 1907 г., през втората световна война от 1944 г., до горе-долу блажената английска 2021 г. Първият спомен е за една доста решителна стара мома от Едуардинската епоха, занимаваща се с нещо, на което днес май му викат ландшафтна архитектура. Това носи пари, но и доста стрес в едно снобско общество, където работата е срамно занятие за висшите класи, които обаче държат да демонстрират зашеметяващи градини, а Кралското Ботанически Дружество все още не приема жени за членове. Мислех, че това ще е най-скучната част, но се оказа най-интересната и най-романтичната.

Вторият спомен на градината я среща с тракторите на местните фермери от 1944 г., които по държавна заповед имат право да я изорат до дъно, за да садят зеленчуци. Вдовицата, в чиито ръце се е озовала, е твърде потресена от последиците от войната, но се вкопчва яростно в запуснатата градина, която дава подслон и на пациентите от тамошната военна болница. Тази история имаше няколко героини, които до една ми харесаха, и направиха каквото и както можаха с предоставените им шансове, някои от които доста противоречиви и интересни.

Третият спомен накара предните два да изплуват през 2021 г., когато щастливата млада двойка, откупила тотално съсипана градина, макар и създадена от призната за гений авторка от зората на 20-ти век, нае собственичка на фирма по градински дизайн със забавното име “Мащерка” да възстанови първоначалния и вид. Тази времева линия ми беше интересна единствено доколкото носеше информация за другите две. Естествено, авторката беше забравила, че пише за леко пандемична и странна година, но нейсе. Е, забавно беше на моменти, но и доста скучно - сякаш авторките на съвременни романтични линии си имат само един досаден “аз-съм-независима-но-сладникава” калъп, и все него ползват. Но градинарските мотиви бяха интересни, прегледни и добре поднесени.

Доста смислен прочит се оказа, а като сюжетно поднасяне авторката е далеч по-пъргава и обиграна от по-известната си, но твърде досадна и предизвикваща прозявки колежка Кейт Мортън.

⭐️3,5 звезди⭐️
Profile Image for Laurie • The Baking Bookworm.
1,377 reviews361 followers
December 13, 2020
The Last Garden in England was my first book by Julia Kelly, and it won't be my last. In this latest book, her story is set around the lives of five women who are connected by the stunning gardens of Highbury, a remote country estate in England. I enjoyed Kelly's writing style, vivid descriptions and how she incorporates a variety of female lead characters, illustrating how their circumstances, professions, and social standing impact their lives.

The story is told in three eras - modern day, 1944 and 1907 by five women whose POVs are woven well together. I'll admit that it took me a bit to distinguish Venetia and Emma whose lives overlap a bit with their similar careers and romantic connections, but it didn't take long for each character - Venetia, Emma, Stella, Beth and Diana - to show their unique personalities as they find their voices, strength and resiliency despite the limitations put upon them by society and their differing social status.

WWII is a super popular subgenre of Historical Fiction and sometimes it feels like I've 'read it all' but I always enjoy it when authors include new-to-me aspects of the war. In this book, I learned about how the British government expropriated country estates for the British army to use as convalescent homes for wounded soldiers. I also enjoyed seeing the different roles women had during the war - land girl, cook, nurse, business owner, wealthy estate owner - and appreciated the depth and complexity Kelly gives her protagonists as they face daunting issues of war and self-discovery.

This was a lighter, wholesome kind of read with a beautiful setting and an interesting blend of story lines that has a bit of everything - romance, heartache, friendship, loss and a dose of botany - but a green thumb is not required! (phew!). This was an enjoyable, if a bit predictable read that focuses on an array of strong female characters who show the importance of friendship and resiliency during tumultuous times.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Gallery Books for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Camille Maio.
Author 10 books1,039 followers
December 27, 2020
Another engrossing book by author Julia Kelly, who has come to be quite reliable for escapist historical fiction. Once again, I was drawn into the lives of the characters (there are quite a lot in this book!) in such a way that it startled me when I came to the end of a chapter and forgot that I was reading rather than witnessing. A compelling story about women, war, mothering, and gardening, put this on your list of 2021 reads!
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