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The Lost Garden: A Novel by Helen Humphreys

The Lost Garden: A Novel (original 2002; edition 2003)

by Helen Humphreys

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3922727,329 (3.8)155
Title:The Lost Garden: A Novel
Authors:Helen Humphreys
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2003), Edition: First Published Stated, Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys (2002)

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    Land Girls by Angela Huth (charl08)
    charl08: Different views of the experiences of women enlisted in WW2 to work on the land whilst the men were away.

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English (24)  German (2)  Dutch (1)  All languages (27)
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The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys is a WWII novel set in the peaceful English countryside. It centers around 35 year old Gwen Davis, a researcher at the Royal Horticultural Society who has volunteered to take charge of turning a manor's rundown gardens, with the help of volunteer "Land Girls", into a source of potatoes for the soldiers. She has found the bombing destruction of her beloved London unbearable, and her own life barren of companionship. Her most treasured possession is a huge two volume encyclopedia of roses, the weight of which she sometimes lays under and imagines is a lover. "The point, dear Davis, is that sometimes what you want is nothing more than to put your name beside someone else's, someone whom you love. Stretch your name out alongside theirs as though it was you, lying next to them.”

She sees herself as plain and socially inept; at the manor others see her differently, and she becomes close to Jane, a young volunteer whose husband has gone missing in the war. Gwen has arrived late, and has to struggle initially in asserting her authority. There are soldiers billeted at the manor, too, awaiting orders, and Captain Raley, a fancier of poetry, helps her find her footing. The gardens are in severe disrepair, but she knows how to mend them. She finds three hidden gardens that further inspire her. “What I've always found interesting in gardens is looking at what people choose to plant there. What they put in. What they leave out. One small choice and then another, and soon there is a mood, an atmosphere, a series of limitations, a world.” The three gardens have been planted, she surmises, to represent longing, loss, and faith. She labors in secret to understand and restore them. We find ourselves gradually caught up in the intertwined tendrils of her, Jane's, and Captain Raley's lives, all of them dependent, in one way or another, on the war being prosecuted beyond the garden walls.

Another quietly brilliant book by this author. Four and a quarter stars. ( )
2 vote jnwelch | Feb 3, 2015 |
very sweet book about a single female gardener in Britain in WW2. about loss, grief, lonliness and beauty
very well written ( )
  lindaspangler | Jan 25, 2014 |
It’s spring 1941 and Gwen Davis, a young horticulturalist, leaves London, which is being destroyed by the Blitz, for an estate in the Devon countryside, where she will instruct a group of young women in growing crops for the home front. The estate, Mosel, is beautiful – neglected but seeming strangely removed from the war: “A quiet world. A slow garden.” (20)

Gwen is a lone, solitary figure: more at home with her Virginia Woolf novels and gardening books than she is with her peers. At Mosel, however, she will come face to face with long buried sorrows and distant emotions, which have plagued both past and present. She discovers a “lost” garden, and endeavours to restore it to its former beauty, uncovering, as she does so, three mysterious markers: Longing, Loss, Faith. Finally, Gwen will meet two people who will forever change her way of thinking: Raley, a Canadian officer who awaits posting to the front with his men; and Jane, a frail but free spirit whose fiancé is missing in action. As the war grows closer, and people and relationships are pulled apart and destroyed, Gwen will take with her from Devon that which the war cannot despoil:

“This is what I know about love. That it is tested every day, and what is not renewed is lost. One chooses either to care more or to care less. Once the choice is to care less, then there is no stopping the momentum of goodbye. Each loved thing slips away. There is no stopping it.” (7)

The Lost Garden is exquisite storytelling: beautiful, delicate, word-perfect. I was immediately caught up in its setting and prose and characters: it simply carried me away. Don’t miss this one. ( )
2 vote lit_chick | Dec 25, 2013 |
It is 1941. England. London is being bombed nightly. And amidst the chaos and shortages, young women are accepted for service in the countryside far away from the bombs. This “Land Army” will fight its own battles as it struggles to turn fallow acreage back into productive soil. Gwen Davis, late of the Royal Horticultural Society and the air raid shelters of London, has been tasked with taking charge of a group of young women assigned to an estate in Devon, seeing to it that they put its grounds back into productive service. Also billeted at “Mosel”, but up in the “big house”, is a group of Canadian soldiers waiting to be reassigned to a new company with which they will re-enter the war. Death stalks their memories and their future. And in the midst of loss, there is also longing and, for some, fidelity.

Nearly all of the women and men in this story are wounded emotionally. Some are healing and others merely hanging on. Humphreys weaves an intricate pattern using the richness of the flora and the haunting interiority of Virginia Woolf’s late novels. Indeed, Woolf is central to Gwen’s view on the world and her recent suicide has added a tincture of self-pity to the disappointments accompanying other losses. It is a daring move on Humphreys’ part, to raise the spectre of Woolf and risk comparison. In this case, I think she succeeds though perhaps in an emotionally overwrought manner that Woolf herself would disavow. Gently recommended for emotional warmth and nutrient rich humus. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Apr 4, 2013 |
"Sometimes our passion is our ruin."

This is what I was hoping would happen when I started the TBR project. That I would pick up a book that's been languishing on my shelf, and it would be the right book. This book is so beautiful. And so sad.

I could tell you all about the details that made me put it on my list in the first place. England during the War. The threat of the Blitz. The Women's Land Army. A hidden garden. A hint of tragic love. I could tell you about these things, but it wouldn't feel right. This book, like the hidden garden at its heart, needs to be uncovered and understood piece by piece.

Instead of telling you about the details, I'll try to tell you about my response to this book. This story is filled with emotions. So, so many of them. A complicated mix that makes them impossible to describe, which I think is the highest compliment I can pay to this story. The portrait of fear, desperation, regret, contentment, determination, wonder, loneliness, friendship, and grief (oh, the grief), combine to create, impossibly, a perfect love story. It is a perfect portrayal of love. Not a child's Disneyfied version of love. Not a comforting idea of love. It captures how everyone is locked inside their own body and brain, forever separate from everyone else. But we yearn for connection to someone else. We are desperate for it. That cocktail of emotion works in this book.

This book is written in first person. It feels like you're sitting quietly in a darkened room, perhaps with a fire and a cup of tea, as a woman tells you about her search for...something. A home. And she tells us about what "home" truly is. And what she found along the way. Longing. Loss. Faith.

I can't explain this book. It's like magic. I don't know how it works, and I'm not sure I want to know. Read it. ( )
  librarymeg | Mar 8, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
Like love, the novel is not quite definable and has moments of awkwardness or obviousness, but taken as a whole, is delicate and ambitious and, happily, even subtly comic on occasion.
added by lkernagh | editQuill & Quire, Joan Barfoot (Jul 1, 2002)
England in 1941 is the setting for this bittersweet story, where maturity means a stoic acceptance of the constant presence of death and the sadness of unfulfilled loves. Gwen Davis leaves London amid the burning wreckage left by the German bombings having given up her job at the Royal Horticultural Society to volunteer as a captain in the Women's Land Army in Devon. She will supervise a small group of young women whose task is to raise food for the war effort. Awkward with people and inexperienced with men, Gwen initially finds the nonagricultural aspects of her new job beyond her. Gradually she becomes friends with one of the young women and falls in love with the Canadian officer billeted with his men in the adjoining estate.
added by kthomp25 | editBooklist, Nancy Pearl
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Say this when you return, "I came by the wrong road, and saw the starved woods burn." - RICHARD CHURCH

Nothing will catch you. Nothing will let you go. We call it blossoming - the spirit breaks from you and you remain. - JORIE GRAHAM
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393324915, Paperback)

Leaving London to grow food for the war effort, Gwen discovers a mysterious lost garden and the story of a love that becomes her own.

This word-perfect, heartbreaking novel is set in early 1941 in Britain when the war seems endless and, perhaps, hopeless. London is on fire from the Blitz, and a young woman gardener named Gwen Davis flees from the burning city for the Devon countryside. She has volunteered for the Land Army, and is to be in charge of a group of young girls who will be trained to plant food crops on an old country estate where the gardens have fallen into ruin. Also on the estate, waiting to be posted, is a regiment of Canadian soldiers. For three months, the young women and men will form attachments, living in a temporary rural escape. No one will be more changed by the stay than Gwen. She will inspire the girls to restore the estate gardens, fall in love with a soldier, find her first deep friendship, and bring a lost garden, created for a great love, back to life. While doing so, she will finally come to know herself and a life worth living. Reading group guide included.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:29 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In the spring of 1941 Gwen Davis leaves the chaos of wartime London to go to Devon. There her new job is to tend a neglected garden at a country house and to take charge of some Land Girls. As the harsh realities of war start to intrude, Gwen finds herself swept up into a world of passion.… (more)

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W.W. Norton

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