The Lost Garden, Helen Humphreys
Phyllis Bruce Books, 224 pages
On a windy spring day in 1941, horticulturalist Gwen Davis says goodbye to a city she has loved for a decade. There is very little in London for Gwen any more; bombs have destroyed the places that were so important to her, cancer has taken her mother’s life, and the newspapers have declared that her literary heroine, Virginia Woolf, is missing, presumed dead. Frustrated by the emptiness of wartime London, Gwen decides to leave. She volunteers to teach a group of Land Army girls to grow crops for the war effort, and is posted to a neglected country estate in Devon.
Gwen arrives a week late. The girls have settled in comfortably, and with little else to do, they while away their time with the soldiers who have been billeted at the house. So far, they have looked to the authoritative Jane for direction, and are less than enthused about the appearance of a socially awkward supervisor. Gradually, with help from Jane and Commanding Officer Raley, Gwen learns how to gain the girls’ loyalty and inspire them to contribute their talents. Under Gwen’s guidance, the girls grow potatoes, raise livestock, and restore the estate gardens to their former glory. When the girls are working, Gwen familiarizes herself with the grounds. She stumbles upon a forgotten garden planned around themes of love, and as she works diligently to revive it, she allows its messages to take root in her soul. And in the evenings, they all gather together to listen to the news on the radio, remember their former lives, and find ways to move through a very uncertain time.
Written in a beautifully poetic voice, this tale of love, loss and renewal during wartime will appeal to readers of Jane Urquhart and Elizabeth Hay.