It is only two months since I last read and reviewed a book by this author but this one from the blurb on the back cover sounded just perfect for spending a few lazy summer afternoons reading. It was perfect so Santa Montefiore gets to feature here again. These are the words that jumped out at me from the back cover ‘A neglected garden. A cottage that holds a secret. A mysterious Frenchman, (handsome naturally). A family in need of some love. These elements are entwined in this heart warming novel that reviewers consistently compare to Maeve Binchy and Rosamunde Pilcher.’
I have in fact made this very same comparison myself, here in my review of The Swallow and the Hummingbird, when I recommended her writing to all lovers of romantic fiction, especially fans of Rosamunde Pilcher.
The French Gardener is a very romantic story, but not in a sickly sweet way, that found me with tears in my eyes a few times. Maybe I have been feeling a little too sentimental recently but I really enjoyed the way this story was told. The book is divided into the four seasons and within each section there are told the stories of the two families, linked past and present by The French Gardener himself. In modern times we have David and Miranda Claybourne moving out of London and buying Hartington House a country estate. It is not the idyllic lifestyle that Miranda may have imagined partly because her husband is hardly ever there, finds she is lonely. I found her husband to be arrogant and intensely annoying actually for most of the novel! The gardens have been neglected so when a Jean Paul a Frenchman turns up offering to help restore the place to its former beauty Miranda jumps to accept his offer. Little does she know when she takes him on that he has a connection with the garden and the previous residents Phillip and Ava Lightly from nearly thirty years ago. Both stories centre around Hartington House, its garden and the village it is part of. Anyone who has experienced village life for themselves and or loves gardening will appreciate how well Santa Montefiore has captured the essence of the characters and their surroundings. A story that truly captures the struggle to balance love and duty.
Personally I am really looking forward to reading more of her novels and am disappointed that at the moment there are no more sitting on our bookshelves waiting for me.
I have reproduced here Santa Montefiore’s own words from the Simon and Schuster Website about how her ideas for this novel came about as they help to understand the story.
I was lazing on the lawn in the summer, thinking about my next book, when I saw my parents' gardener, Simon, mowing the grass on the tractor (my parents live on a farm in Hampshire, UK, and have an enormous garden!) on the back and sides were my two children aged 5 and 7 and their four small cousins. Simon was blithely mowing with these little monkeys laughing and squeaking around him, probably making it harder for him to work, but he didn't seem to mind. I then thought of how much fun they all have in the countryside, planting vegetables and trees, picking apples and blackberries in the autumn, finding small creatures to nurture, rescuing the odd bird fallen out of his nest, building camps and running around in freedom. They rarely watch tv and certainly don't have time for computer games when there's so much to do in the garden! My parents are busy people. My father is either on a tractor or playing tennis, rackets, squash, golf! I noticed too that the garden brought them together. Simon is a recent addition to the farm. My parents didn't hire a new gardener when Peter, the old gardener they'd had for 20 years retired and then died, preferring to save pennies and do the gardening themselves, an enormous task as the grounds are so big. They mowed over the vegetable garden and cut things back to make it more manageable. Then, by chance, or fate, Simon appeared wanting to rent a cottage. When he said he was a gardener my parents took him on a few days a week. They began planting vegetables again, sweet peas, created new borders - it's a hive of activity now, and has brought them closer together as they spend time doing what they love, together. This, combined with my children's love for the countryside, being essentially London children, gave me the idea for the French Gardener. I then wove Jean-Paul and Ava out of my imagination, but the gardens are based on Prince Charles's gardens at Highgrove.
An audio link to listen to the beginning of the novel can be found by clicking here. I also included a video interview in my last post about this author’s work which I refer you back to if you are interested.
Biographical and other information including photos and videos are courtesy of the following websites and from the paperback itself.