Garden of Reading Delights: Fiction and Gardens | The Reader’s Shelf

Take pleasure in these fiction picks about gardens and flowers, from the likes of Virginia Woolf and Jessica Francis Kane.

Gardens and novels have long been companions. “A book is like a garden carried in the pocket,” according to a Chinese proverb, and Cicero is quoted as offering, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” These garden novels prove the point.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh incorporates flower symbolism in her debut, The Language of Flowers (Ballantine. 2012. ISBN 9780345525550). Victoria Jones, orphaned at birth, has endured a life of foster homes, until, at age ten, she is adopted by a vineyard owner who teaches her the language of flowers. However, when disaster strikes, Victoria finds herself reentering the foster system. Emancipated at 18, relatively uneducated and jobless Victoria ends up sleeping in San Francisco’s hilltop McKinley Square, planting and tending a small garden she creates. That interest leads to a job in a florist shop. Her steps toward commercial success are interrupted by numerous emotional and psychological issues. Creating her own flower dictionary and coming to terms with her past help the disconnected Victoria move toward reconnection. Readers may wish to consult a floriography source while journeying down Victoria’s path. READ NEXT:  In the Light of the Garden, by Heather Burch, offers another look at love, forgiveness, and the journey of discovery.

Within the pages of Amanda Coplin’s debut, The Orchardist (Harper. 2013. ISBN 9780062188519), a solitary orchardist in the rural eastern Washington Cascades mountain range finds solace in cultivating his sweet land. Orphaned at age 14, William Talmadge has only two friends: a local herbalist/midwife and a Nez Perce horseman. Talmadge has experienced 40 years of undisturbed solitude, but when he spies two teenage girls stealing apples from his land, he realizes that both girls are pregnant and offers them shelter. What could have been a possible family unit tragically changes, and Talmadge is left to raise one of the infants. With his serene, quiet days now behind him, he becomes a most devoted and dedicated parent. His nurturing benevolence, combined with the incomparable beauty of his beloved fruit orchards, brings such warmth to this story of a man facing many dramatic consequences on his chosen path. READ NEXT: At the Edge of the Orchard, by Tracy Chevalier, might please; it considers a northwestern Ohio family trying to tame their patch of land in the 19th century.
Virginia Woolf’s short story “Kew Gardens,” found in The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf (Mariner. 1989. ISBN 9780156212502), is a celebration of a hot July day in London’s Royal Botanic Gardens. The brief tale brings to mind images of impressionist paintings, as the narrator points out the vibrant colors and shapes of the setting. Woolf employed a stream-of-consciousness approach, adding snippets of nearby conversations from passersby. The virtually plotless piece also includes the study of a snail crossing a garden path. A couple ambles by, the man intent on his previous love interest, the woman oblivious as she gathers up their nearby children. Two gentlemen stroll through the garden, seemingly involved with different topics in their non-sequitur chats. The narrator might conclude that while each human group is intent on an upcoming path, the plodding mollusk’s approach may only slightly differ. READ NEXT:  Written by a keen gardener, Life in the Garden, by Penelope Lively, is an engaging view of various actual and fanciful gardens mentioned in literature.
Digging In (Lake Union. 2018. ISBN 9781542047296), by Loretta Nyhan, features Paige Moresco, who, after 20 years of marriage, is widowed and completely unmoored. Compounding her tragedy, her beloved boss has also suddenly passed away, and his inexperienced young heir decides to take the helm. He quickly announces that by summer’s end the small staff will shrink. Paige, who is often harassed about her shabby, unsightly lawn, and under the influence of too much wine one evening, decides to start digging. She befriends a local farmer’s market vendor, and before long Paige has become successful at growing tomatoes and herbs. A newly revived Paige also develops an affinity with her coworkers, each concerned about their own future. READ NEXT: The Garden of Small Beginnings, by Abbi Waxman, offers a poignant and quirky view of the believable ways we grow from loss.
Becoming acquainted with May Attaway, a botanist and university landscape architect in Jessica Francis Kane’s Rules for Visiting (Penguin. 2020. ISBN 9780525559245), can be likened to pulling on a comfortable pair of gardening gloves. Living with her widowed father in her childhood home, May, age 40, has planted on the university campus a yew tree that hails from a 3,000-year-old tree in Scotland. Her supervisor has decided to recognize her botanical gifts with an extended period of paid leave, so May hatches a plan to reconnect with four old friends, each of whom she has not seen in several years. The lovely, slow-paced, relaxing tale sets May on many ventures, each revealing positive interactions and small moments of joy, and presenting a few troubling wrinkles. May’s journey brings awareness that plants, trees, and flowers, as well as friendships, require cultivation and nurturing. READ NEXT: Lynne Branard’s Traveling Light is another smartly conceived on-the-road tale that takes a few detours along the way.

This column was contributed by librarian and freelance writer Andrea Tarr, Alta Loma, CA.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing