April 2023 Reading Challenge
Best Garden Themed Book List for Quick Reference
- The Heirloom Garden
- The Merry Hall part of a trilogy
- Murder by the Book
- A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons
- The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey
- The Forgotten Garden
- The Language of Flowers
- The Mermaid Garden
- The Last Garden in England
- Winter Garden
Do you love to garden? I don’t. I like the idea, but when I have to get out there and bend over and work in the dirt, I quickly remember it’s not my favorite thing. Even more than a preference, though, is that I completely lack the instinct for it. I have no idea what will make a plant grow and thrive. Most of the time, I feel relieved when a houseplant finally gives up because I no longer need to worry about it. I don’t think either of my parents liked to garden. They had a garden, or, rather, they valiantly tried to have a garden, but I think their efforts lacked joy and sound instincts as well.
Conversely, my husband loves it; looooves it. He plants stuff just for the challenge. We always have avocado pits sprouting on our kitchen windowsills. We lived in Memphis for years and had a truly amazing banana tree, which he planted to see what would happen.
He has a collection of amaryllis bulbs hidden away in the dark basement that expands every year as he divides them (I say that like I know what I’m talking about, but I’m not entirely sure what he’s doing with them.) He potted one a week ago and faithfully checks it first thing every evening after work to see if a leaf has appeared. He likes to watch things grow and figure out if he can get things to grow.
My grandparents were that way as well. My Finnish grandmother had a condo on the third floor in her small town. She had potatoes growing in a bucket on her tiny balcony, and my grandfather had a giant palm tree growing in the living room.
As I think about gardening, I’m drawn to the age-old idea of a green thumb. At the same time, anyone can learn gardening principles, yet not everyone comes equipped with a passion for and a kinship with plants. There are people out there, people I love dearly, who genuinely love to watch things grow. It’s wonderful.
Whatever your thoughts on gardening, you’re visiting this blog today because you love books. Our reading challenge for April is to read books with garden themes. These aren’t gardening books; you won’t find how-to guides or plant encyclopedias here. You will find page-turning stories that feature gardens and/or plants as more of a main character, which is one of my favorite ways to enjoy a garden. I hope you can experience at least one of these titles while basking in a garden, whether it’s one you planted or the result of someone else’s efforts. Join us as we cultivate our garden of books.
The Heirloom Garden
Viola Shipman, 2020
This is the story of a friendship that grows in a beautiful garden between Iris and Abby, neighbors who have each experienced great love and loss. Iris is a serious gardener; she knows her flowers and propagates her own varieties. In fact, flowers have taken the place of people in her life and she spends her days caring for and even talking to her blossoms. Until Abby and her family move next door. As Iris is drawn into the chaos of Abby’s life, both women begin to bloom amidst their struggles and sorrows. Keep a box of tissues handy; you’ll need them as you, too, grow to love these remarkable women.
The Merry Hall
Beverly Nichols, 1950s
Mr. Nichols wrote a number of books about gardening throughout his writing career. The Merry Hall Trilogy recounts his own adventures renovating a Georgian mansion and its extensive gardens. It is definitely a work of his time and includes his biases, yet it is humorous. Did I mention his love of cats? One of his dreams was to have one hundred cats before he died. The third book, Sunlight on the Lawn, especially focuses on the gardens. If you like the humor of PG Wodehouse, then these books are right up your alley.
Murder by the Book
Rex Stout, various printings
Have you ever given Rex Stout’s mysteries featuring detective Nero Wolfe a try? These are classics in the who-done-it genre, akin to Agatha Christie. Nero Wolfe is a detective by profession, but his passion is growing orchids and these exotic blooms often take the spotlight in Mr. Stout’s novels. The writing and use of language is smart and over 20 orchid varieties are mentioned in this one book alone. Plus, the mystery will keep you stumped until the very end.
A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons
Kate Khavari, 2022
This novel introduces readers to Saffron Everleigh, a budding botanist at University College London in 1923. I would classify this as a cozy mystery set in the jazz age. Saffron is smart, engaging, and adventurous. The plot is solid and there’s just enough romance to get your heart fluttering. It’s charming and fun from beginning to end.
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey
Candice Millard, 2005
This book is one of my all-time favorites. While the Amazon jungle is not exactly what anyone would call a “garden,” plants take much of the center stage in this non-fiction book about Roosevelt’s exploration of a tributary of the Amazon River. This is certainly a book about Roosevelt and you’ll get to know a side of him you haven’t seen before. But this book is also about the Amazon and the plants that live there. Ms. Millard is a former writer for National Geographic and her nature writing abilities really shine. The idea of a jungle being alive will take on an entirely new meaning after you read this brilliant book.
The Forgotten Garden
Kate Morton, 2010
Have you discovered Kate Morton? She is one of my favorites and this book is one reason why. There’s Nell, a four-year-old foundling who appears on a dock in Australia carrying a book of fairy tales. And then there’s Nell’s granddaughter, Cassandra, a modern young woman who inherits a mysterious house and garden in Cornwall. This captivating book goes back and forth between both stories, weaving them together to take readers on an unforgettable journey.
The Language of Flowers
Vanessa Diffenbaugh, 2011
This story is told from the point of view of, Victoria Jones, an 18-year-old young woman who spent her childhood in solitude, drifting through the foster-care system without setting down any roots. Victoria’s head is an uncomfortable place to be, so be warned; she’s prickly, angry, distrusting, and dishonest, and that’s just a brief sample of her many flaws. But she knows flowers, and this talent earns her a job in a flower shop. What follows is a compelling, thought-provoking story about how flowers help one young woman say things she cannot otherwise find the words to express. This is Ms. Diffenbaugh’s debut novel and it’s a Goodreads Reader’s Choice Award nominee.
The Mermaid Garden
Santa Montefiore, 2011
There are two stories in this book. One is a romance on the Italian coast in the 1960s and the other is set today on the Devon coast in England and involves a struggling hotel and a mysterious artist. Ms. Montefiore has written a luxurious book that will both relax you and keep you turning pages through the night as you try to figure out the connection between the two tales.
The Last Garden in England
Julia Kelly, 2021
The Last Garden in England takes readers through time, interlacing together the stories of five women and their connections to an English garden. Ms. Kelly is a great storyteller and the historical details she includes create a vivid and immersive experience. Themes of love, loss, and resilience are explored through the lens of each woman’s experiences. This is historical fiction with a strong WWII element, as has been common in recent years, but the strong emphasis on additional time periods keeps this from feeling cliché. You’ll love the women and you’ll love the garden.
Kristin Hannah, 2011
When Anya begins telling her daughters a fairy tale about a young Russian girl living in Leningrad a long time ago, everything they thought they knew about their family changes. Kristin Hannah is a talented writer and she spins a magnificent and unforgettable story about love, loss, family, and survival in this book that’s sure to become a fast favorite. I will say the book starts a bit slow and I wasn’t sure I even really liked the characters, but I soon discovered this is all part of Ms. Hannah’s storytelling and I’m so glad I stuck with it.
Enjoy a Good Book in the Garden
One of the best places to enjoy a great book is in the garden. As the days grow longer and the temperatures slowly creep up, seize the opportunity to pick up one or more of the titles in our April challenge. The gardens in these stories will enchant you and may inspire you to start working on your very own garden. Or, if you’re like me, they’ll inspire you to create a cozy space in the garden meant just for reading. (That will be my contribution to our outdoor space this year.)
Discoverbooks.com has these books and more in stock. Add them all to your cart today and you’ll have plenty to read in your garden through the spring and summer.
Are you ready to take the reading challenge? Sign up so you always know what to read next. It’s not too late to join and earn bonus points. You can purchase past books and still earn all the bonus points. Click on the links below for prior month’s book lists.