The Lost Garden
Gwen Davis has joined the Women’s Land Army and is sent to a country estate, where she and the young women under her command are to grow vegetables for the war effort in the long neglected gardens. Gwen, who works for the Royal Horticultural Society, finds that her expertise doesn’t count for much in motivating the women, who would much rather fraternize with the Canadian soldiers billeted on the same estate. She has always preferred to avoid people when possible, and feels totally inadequate to the leadership role she should assume. Gwen’s social background is bleak: “I have been touched three times in my life. Intentionally touched.” But with time, the women begin to work together, to make lives for themselves, to forge relationships.
Gwen divides her time between the vegetable plots and a hidden garden from the time of WWI that she has stumbled across. She slowly brings this secret garden back to life, all the while speculating on its creator and the poignant message it conveys.
Helen Humphreys is a poet as well as a novelist, as is clear from her deft use of language and imagery. A description of walking in the utter darkness of a moonless London night during the blackout made me understand clearly just what it felt like. The novel has a haunting quality and several unforgettable characters. I look forward to reading The Lost Garden again, and to searching out other books by Helen Humphreys.