Tag Archives: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

“The Lost Garden – a Novel” by Helen Humphries

This is the first of the fiction-with-a-supernatural-twist novels I promised to review, and the third of the books recommended by my friend who participates in a book club of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. (See blog entry of July 1, 2015.)

I loved The Lost Garden! It takes place in 1941 and examines the impact of World War II on English civilians. (No one in England is really a civilian at this point in time. Anyone may be assigned to a job deemed to be essential to the war effort.) London is being torn apart by bombing – the psychological pressure is intensifying. Fear of invasion runs rampant.

Gwen leaves her research job in London to supervise a group of young women who have been assigned to grow potatoes on a disused estate. Nearby, soldiers are quartered to await transfer to the battlefield.

The main themes of the book are love and loss. Gwen finds an abandoned garden of astonishing beauty and mystery. She falls in love and watches others love and suffer.

“The Lost Garden” is full of horticulture, especially taxonomy, infused seamlessly with the plot. There are also extensive literary references. Gwen is obsessed with Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and also with The Genus Rosa by Ellen Wilmott.

All this adds up to a moody, thoughtful atmosphere. The characters emerge slowly. I won’t give away anything about the “haunting” of the estate. Read and enjoy!


“Flora – a novel” by Gail Godwin

I loved this book! It was another of those recommended by my friend who participates in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society book club (see July 1).

This story takes the form of a memoir. The narrator is an elderly woman looking back into her childhood. Helen was a precocious ten year old being raised by her father and grandmother. Toward the end of World War II, her grandmother dies and her father departs to work on construction at the site in Oak Ridge, TN, where the United States is building “the bomb”.

Helen’s father enlists a relative (Flora) to come and stay with Helen for the summer. Everything goes wrong for Helen, climaxing in a fatal auto accident for which Helen feels responsible.

What’s good about this book?

It takes a child seriously. Helen works hard at figuring out her family and her friendships.

This book contains wonderful “sub stories”. Helen and her grandmother have been in the habit of listening to radio dramas. Two are recounted in the story. Helen creates a classroom full of imaginary children to help Flora prepare for her career as a teacher.

What I can’t figure out is why the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society would choose this book. It has almost nothing to do with gardens or plants. Helen cuts down some grass with kitchen scissors. An old path is overgrown with weeds. I must be missing something important. Flora is a lovely name, but there must be more than that!

I enjoyed Godwin’s “The Good Husband” about ten years ago, and plan to look at more of her writing.

Another Source of Books – The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

The local Great Books discussion group asked me recently to recommend a novel for summer reading. The group meets just once each summer. I can’t remember what suggestions I offered, and I suspect I will be away on vacation. The selected book is All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld.

A friend offered three titles, saying they were good novels she had read for a book group sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Really?! It never occurred to me that a horticultural society would sponsor a book group.

I tracked down one of the novels she listed, and will write about it soon. The other two were not in my local library – I’ll download them from Amazon for my upcoming beach vacation.

I looked at the PHS web site, and found no mention of a reading group. Maybe it is restricted to members? But they have so much going on! I can imagine myself having a great time with the Society after I retire.

The books I DIDN’T find yet are

  • The Last Garden by Helen Humphries
  • Flora by Gail Godwin

Have you read any good garden-oriented books recently?