Friday, January 22, 2021

Book Review: The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

Pages: 368
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: January 12, 2021
Publisher: Gallery
Other Books By Author: The Light Over London
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "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."


Venetia Smith is a renowned garden designer and is hired in 1907 by Highbury House to renovate the gardens.  While there, she becomes entwined in a love affair that will change her life forever. Fast forward to 1944, the mistress of Highbury House is Diana Symonds, a war widow.  Her husband was killed during the war and she lives there with her young son, but Highbury House is no longer just her home, it is now a convalescent hospital. This obviously turns her world upside down, not to mention the fact that her sister-in-law has come to help run it.  Stella Adderton, the cook at Highbury House, longs for a different life, but things change for her when her sister reaches out to her for help.  Then there's Beth Pedley, who is a land girl during the war and works on a farm in Highbury.  Beth is looking for where she fits in and her life will be changed forever as well by her time spent at Highbury.  Jump to present day and we meet Emma Lovell, who is in charge of restoring the gardens at Highbury.  As she restores the gardens to their former glory, she learns more about Venetia and the secrets that surround Highbury.  Fans of Downton Abbey will especially love The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly; it's a historical story that spans generations and highlights the beauty of gardening, as well the focus on strong female friendships.  

There are many points of view in The Last Garden in England.  There's Venetia, in 1907, and she immediately impressed me. Most women during that time period did not have a jobs and were not unmarried, so I was taken in by her from the beginning. I loved her unconventional behavior; however, this definitely gets her into trouble at Highbury.  Then in 1944, there's a focus on Stella, Beth, and Diana.  While they are all very different, I loved how they form a friendship as well as a respect for each other by the novel's end.  Diana now finds herself as mistress of Highbury, but it's her husband's family's house and without him there, it's not the same. She does pride herself on her garden and she finds it in jeopardy due to the war. She already lost part of her house as a convalescent hospital, so she is determined to not see the gardens ruined.  Diana grows a lot throughout this novel, but things aren't easy for her.  Beth and Stella both want more for their lives and their time at Highbury also proves to be interesting.  Stella can't wait to escape Highbury and the daily drudgery of the kitchens, but she finds her plans going up in flames when her sister needs her help. She works in London and it's dangerous, so she needs Stella to watch her son.  Beth is not only learning what it takes to be a farmer, but she is also learning more about herself. She also finds an unexpected love while at Highbury.  Emma, who lives in present day, ties all the women's stories together as well as the secrets surrounding Highbury House and the gardens.

As you can see, there's a lot of points of view in The Last Garden in England.  At times, it was difficult to remember which character lived during which time period. The e-galley I read did not always include dates prior to each chapter, so I am hoping the final copy will, otherwise can get rather confusing. In fact, I do think there may be one narrator too many in The Last Garden in England as sometimes it felt a bit too choppy.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the female friendship showcased in The Last Garden in England and I adored the focus on gardening.  It made me want to get outside and bring my springtime gardens back to life.  Kelly gives us a lot of details regarding the various plants and the design; being a fan of gardens, I especially appreciated all of these details.

So, if you are looking for a historical novel to get swept up in this winter, give Julia Kelly's The Last Garden in England a try, especially if you are a fan of Downton Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs and if you are like me, The Last Garden in England will have you looking outside longingly for the first blooms of spring.



  1. Looking forward to reading this one!

    1. It was a really nice escape, especially if you love gardens/gardening. I hope you enjoy it, Michele! Thanks for visiting.

  2. Having a lot of POVs can be an interesting tactic, but it can go too far sometimes!

    1. Yeah, I definitely could have done with one less POV, but overall, it was still a great novel! Thanks for visiting, Angela!


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