Every garden is a story, waiting to be told…
At the nursery she runs with her sisters on the New England coast, Sorrel Sparrow has honed her rare gift for nurturing plants and flowers. Now that reputation, and a stroke of good timing, lands Sorrel an unexpected opportunity: reviving a long-dormant Shakespearean garden on an English country estate.
Arriving at Kirkwood Hall, ancestral home of Sir Graham Kirkwood and his wife Stella, Sorrel is shocked by the desolate state of the walled garden. Generations have tried—and failed—to bring it back to glory. Sorrel senses heartbreak and betrayal here, perhaps even enchantment. Intrigued by the house’s history—especially the haunting tapestries that grace its walls—and increasingly drawn to Stella’s enigmatic brother, Sorrel sets to work. And though she knows her true home is across the sea with her sisters, instinct tells her that the English garden’s destiny is entwined with her own, if she can only unravel its secrets…
The Forbidden Garden begins with an intriguing epigraph:
(n.) a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was: the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past."
Sorrel Sparrow is a gardener, working with her sisters in New England. When she gets an unexpected opportunity to restore a Shakespearean garden, she travels to England. Her travels to Kirkwood Hall introduce her to a quirky and mysterious family. There is a long dormant garden with a dark, unknown history.
There are so many layers in this novel. There is Sorrel, with the unspoken sorrows in her past. There is her attraction to Andrew, Stella Kirkwood's brother, and the sadness and distance in his past.
There is the rumor of a Kirkwood family curse. There is the hall of tapestries with dark and frightening images, and a missing tapestry. There is a mysterious missing book.
There are also beautiful, lush descriptions of gardening and plants, as well as mouth watering descriptions of food and meals.
I loved the lyricism of descriptions in The Forbidden Garden. One perfect example:
"Here she was standing in the churchyard surrounded by headstones and a carpet of wandering bluebells. The young roses that climbed along the church walls and the bushy stands of rosemary at the door were as familiar as old friends. Wisteria, heavy with buds, twisted and clambered over the pergola. Sorrel was surprised to see passion-flower scaling the low iron fence surrounding the graveyard. Beloved plants - chamomile, lily of the valley, nigella, even dandelions - grounded her" (pp. 137 - 138).
The characterizations are equally nuanced. I cared about Sorrel and Andrew, and waited for their unknown pasts to unfold. I did not realize that another book, The Sparrow Sisters, preceded this one. Although The Forbidden Garden worked as a standalone novel, I feel I missed a lot of details because I have not (yet) read the first novel in this series.
That said, this was a fascinating read. I loved the sense of history (both personal history and history of a place) unfolding. There is an appealing element of fantasy, almost like a fairytale, about the Kirkwood garden and the Sparrow sisters. This quality was particularly appealing mixed in with the memorable characters and mysteries waiting to be solved. I enjoyed The Forbidden Garden and recommend it to other readers.
Ellen Herrick was a publishing professional in New York City until she and her husband moved to London for a brief stint; they returned nearly twenty years later with three children (her own, it must be said). She now divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a small town on Cape Cod very much like Granite Point.
Find out more about Ellen at her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours.