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The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys

The Lost Garden (2002)

by Helen Humphreys

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4723431,132 (3.85)228
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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 (31)  German (2)  Dutch (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
The Lost Garden is prose that sings like poetry. Helen Humphreys brings so much emotion and soul to her writing that you feel the angst of her characters, their loss, their sorrow, their hope.

Gwen Davis flees war-torn London for an estate called Mosel in Devon. Mosel has been requisitioned to be used to grow food for the war effort, and Gwen, a horticulturist, and is put in charge of a group of volunteers for the Women’s Land Army who are to work the gardens. Shortly before leaving London, Gwen’s mother has died, and she is at loose ends and alone in the world.

Along with the Land Army women, there is a troop of Canadian soldiers who are bivouacked at a house on the estate. The CO, Captain Raley, is another person caught in suspended time, and someone who will figure prominently in Gwen’s experiences at Mosel. One of the other volunteers, Jane, is grappling with the reality of a missing finance. All are caught in the limbo that is created by war.

When Gwen finds an abandoned garden, meticulously designed, carefully hidden and quite intentionally so, she awakens something new within herself. She adopts the garden as her own project and attempts to unravel the secret of how the garden came to be and who created it.

I feel something that at first I’m sure is fear. But no, that’s not it. What I feel is a kind of unreality. I am a ghost. I have wandered back in time, or forward, and I have disturbed this sleeping place with my presence. The one thing I can clearly feel, the one thing I know above all else is that I am the first person to have been here in a very long time.

Her attempts to connect with the lost someone who created the garden result in a myriad of connections for Gwen, but most importantly one with herself, a she struggles to make sense of her life and the war that has shattered her world.

The thing with war is this, we cannot change ourselves enough to fit the shape of it.

There were so many profound passages in this book that I kept stopping to write them down so that I would never lose them. There is a conversation between two of the characters about poetry that was stunning. And this comment about writing:

When a writer writes, it’s as if she holds the sides of her chest apart, exposes her beating heart. And even though everything wants to heal, to close over and protect the heart, the writer must keep it bare, exposed. And in doing this, all of life is kept back, all the petty demands of the day-to-day. The heart is a river. The act of writing is the moving water that holds the banks apart, keeps the muscle of words flexing so that the reader can be carried along by this movement. To be given space and the chance to leave one’s earthly world. Is there any greater freedom than this?

Gwen finds a secret garden, long abandoned; learns what it is to love, what it is to have a friend, and what it means to be a part of life instead of a spectator. In sharing her story, we find a secret garden as well, a garden of words and thoughts that flower, bloom and germinate in our minds and settle into our hearts. The book is a gift. ( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
Original Review posted on my blog, Musings of a Bookish Kitty:

The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys
W.W. Norton & Company, 2003
Fiction (Historical); 208 pgs

The Lost Garden is a quiet novel about a woman who longs for love, who has never really experienced love, and when she does . . . Well, it is beautiful and sad all rolled into one. The novel is set during World War II and is about a group of women who volunteered for the Women's Land Army in an effort to help the war effort--and whatever other more personal reasons they have for needing a change. On a nearby estate are a group of Canadian soldiers waiting for their orders.

Gwen Davis is 35 years old and unmarried. Her mother was not the most affectionate of mothers and Gwen has never known what it is to be in love. A lover of literature and Virginia Woolf, Gwen only knows what is in her books. Wanting to get away from the city after her mother's death, Gwen decides to take charge of a project in the countryside to help the war effort--and to put her skills as a botanist to use. She longs to return to her first love of gardening, having grown tired of working in a lab setting. When she arrives at the requisitioned estate in which she is assigned in Devon, Gwen finds she's arrived a week later than anticipated. The young women she is to supervise have already taken up with their neighboring soldiers and have little interest in work.

Over the course of the novel, the reader sees Gwen come into her own with the help of Jane, one of the Land Girls, who is waiting for news about her boyfriend who is lost at war, and the Canadian Commanding Officer, Raley, whose love for music matches her love for literature. I could sense in Raley a deep sadness and suspected he had suffered a great loss in his past. He saw clearly what lay ahead with the war and proved to be a good influence on Gwen. The two work together to keep morale up and to help Gwen in gaining the women's trust and loyalty.

It bothered me a bit that Gwen does not use the women's real names, expect for Jane. I imagine it fit though given how Gwen stands separate from those around her. It takes time for her to warm up to others, and even longer to loosen up. While the Land Girls remain more in the background throughout the novel, their backstories barely told, one of them does stand out. That of Jane. She is such an interesting character, a lost soul as she waits for news about her boyfriend. She loves with all her heart. Whereas Gwen holds tightly onto hers.

As the women plow the fields and prepare for the planting of the potatoes, Gwen spends time in a hidden garden she's discovered on the estate. It is overgrown, but was once loved. The hidden garden tells its own story, one Gwen is determined to figure out as she works on making it what it once was. She sees her own life, her own experiences, in that secret garden.

Helen Humphreys has written such a beautiful novel. You can tell the author is a poet. Her prose is simple and yet descriptive, really bringing to life the English countryside and the characters within the book's pages. I found the juxtaposition between the war backdrop and the paradise of the gardens interesting. Even in such a peaceful place, the war was always there in one form or another, especially for the characters in Humphreys's novel.

Some would say this is a love story. The love between friends, romantic love, unrequited love, and the love between a mother and a daughter. Others might say it is a war story--on the impact war has even on those who remain home. It is all of those things as well as the story of one woman coming into her own, finding her heart and learning to live.

I had not expected to like The Lost Garden as much as I did. Even as I sit here writing this review, I find myself wishing there had been more to it, and yet feeling it was perfect. I wish the author had spent more time on the minor characters. I feel like I did not really get to know them. And yet, this isn't really their story.
  LiteraryFeline | Nov 25, 2017 |
Wasn't sure I was going to like this book when I started. But it surprised me. It was pretty good. Another book set in war times and the United Kingdom! You got me hooked.

( )
  Shahnareads | Jun 21, 2017 |
[The Lost Garden] by [Helen Humphreys] is a beautifully written book of love, loss and longing. By 1941 Gwen Davis can no longer watch London landmarks and neighborhoods fall to ruin and death. A trained gardener, she volunteers to the Land Army and is sent to Devon to train young girls to grow food crops. Here she and the girls live on an estate along with a regiment of Canadian soldiers who are waiting to be posted.

While the girls work on reviving the vegetable gardens, Gwen finds and is intrigued by three overgrown ornamental gardens she learns were planted around themes. One of them, the last she finds, is surrounded by foliage that causes it to be hidden from view. A secret garden she finds only by crawling through a row of yews. This was the garden of love...and loss.

Over the three months the girls and soldiers live on the estate, Gwen makes her first friend and falls in love for the first time. In just those three months, she is changed forever.

Placed back on the shelf for a reread. ( )
  clue | Nov 4, 2016 |
I am not much of a gardener myself but when I was small, I knew the names of most of the common flowers where we lived, I am intrigued by the language of flowers, and I have always thrilled to beautiful gardens. The idea of a hidden or lost garden appeals to me more than you can know and I'm sure the title and cover of this book drew me in immediately. I have to say that as a conditional because I have had it sitting on my bookshelf unread for more than a decade. I can't explain why it sat for so long but getting the push to finally read it was wonderful, especially as it is a gorgeously written story. In fact, Helen Humphreys' latest novel, The Evening Chorus was one of my favorite reads of last year. The Lost Garden has the same seductive, mesmeric feel to it that the newer novel does and I loved immersing myself in the lush and gorgeous language of this beautiful novel.

Gwen Davis has worked for years at the Royal Horticulture Society in London when she volunteers for the Women's Land Army as a way to escape the Blitz. Gwen is generally quiet, almost invisible, ill at ease with others, and convinced of her plainness and undesirability so being in charge of an outfit of young women, especially young women determined to make the most of life in the midst of wartime, is a stretch for her. When Gwen arrives at the country estate where she is to be in charge, she finds that a Canadian regiment is also on the grounds as they await orders and her Land Girls have made themselves at home with the men. Initially Gwen wants no fraternizing, after all; the Land Girls are there to plant potatoes and do their part producing food for the war effort, but she quickly realizes that a lighter hand will return better results. It doesn't hurt that she is intrigued by Raley, the Canadian Commander. With the help of Jane, whose fiance is missing in the war, Gwen starts to soften, learning not only how to lead but also how to connect personally. When Gwen finds a lost garden, one not on any map of the estate and seemingly unknown to the others there, she sets about bringing it back to life, trying to understand the motivation behind building it. Divided into three distinct parts labeled loss, longing, and faith, Gwen tends to the hidden garden as she herself traverses these three states of experience and feeling alongside the corresponding plants blooming and fading.

Humphreys is a master at beautiful language and dreamy imagery and she has drawn a lovely, introspective novel about love and memory and connection. Like the growing season of the gardens, the time the characters have together is fleeting and there is a melancholic and elegiac feel to the novel. Watching Gwen bloom, watching her open her heart to others, to desire, to love is exquisitely done. She is certainly the central character of the novel, the other characters acting as accents. And it is Gwen's personal growth that is carefully detailed in quiet ways, like her giving each of the Land Girls the nickname of a potato variety, starting by calling them exclusively by these nicknames, but slowly coming to use the young women's real names as the book comes to its quiet close. Humphreys writes stunningly of nature and the poetry to be found in plants, weaving nature into this very human story of a desire for connection and love, tying Gwen and the gardens together wonderfully. This is a graceful and stunning novel, reaffirming for me that I should pull the rest of Humphreys's novels off my shelf sooner rather than later so I can submerge myself again in the beauty and magnificence that is her writing. ( )
  whitreidtan | Jun 30, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (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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What can I say about love?
Every day weather blows in and out, alters the surface.  Sometimes it is stripped down to a single essential truth, the thing that is always believed, no matter what.  The seeds from which the garden has grown.
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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)

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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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