Secrets, families and lots of weeding

I have  a secret fondness for books about old houses, or old gardens. Show me a wreck of a house, or a lost garden, and I am in booky heaven.  I don’t mind if the book is fiction or non-fiction, real or made up, even what happens in it – horror, history, DIY restoration, even romance, as long as the place itself has been lost in some way, and then found in some way.  Sarah Rayne and FG Cottam’s haunted house books are great for this, as is anything about the Lost Gardens at Heligan (SO on my list of places to visit when I finally get to do a geriatric version of the Big O.E.).

I think this is how I stumbled across Kate Morton – just the title The Forgotten Garden was enough to make me lunge at it across the shelves.  Now I have to confess here that normally I wouldn’t give those great big chunky sagas a second look, but with the promise of hidden gardens, old abandoned houses and mysterious family secrets I thought I could step outside the zone and try something new.  Although when I say ‘new’, what I really mean is ‘not new’ – The Forgotten Garden was published in 2009, but I only found it recently.  I’m guessing this is because Morton’s books are so popular – her most recent title The Secret Keeper has a lot of holds on it, so obviously you guys rate her pretty highly.

The Forgotten Garden turned out to be a great read – well-written, well-researched and grounded in real, close-to-home history, and with really appealing characters.  I loved the bits about the garden and the house, with all its mysteries and family secrets, and even surprised myself by enjoying the whole ‘sweeping saga’ thing.  Now I’m thinking I might give The Secret Keeper a go too.  I know there’s a waiting list, but since it’s the holidays I might even spoil myself and pick up a best-seller copy – for the price of a (large) coffee, I can take a best-seller home, with all the usual benefits of best-sellers: they’re shiny, they’re always available even when there’s a long waiting list for regular copies, and best of all, you can say to your family, “No, I’m sorry, I CAN’T do the housework, I have to get this book finished by the end of the week.”

Sounds like a pretty good holiday plan to me.

PS. Can anyone recommend any other books about lost gardens or abandoned houses?  Or even write me one, quickly?  I’m running out of things to read here …

13 thoughts on “Secrets, families and lots of weeding

  1. Jason 3 January 2013 / 11:11 am

    Hi Bronnypop,

    You’d like our house then; old villa from the early 20th Century with banks of weeds progressively decreasing the size of our garden – but we love it. We can sit on the back verandah with a glass or cup of something refreshing and listen to the fauna feasting. With regards to books, I’d recommend many Dickens stories and some mark twain (possibly a little dark?).


    • bronnypop 3 January 2013 / 1:02 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations, Jason – the darker the better for me, usually, which is why I wasn’t so sure about the whole ‘sweeping saga’ thing. Always good to branch out, though! (Also very jealous of your old villa with encroaching garden!)

  2. Robyn 3 January 2013 / 11:45 am

    It’s not exactly about an abandoned house but I loved A House Unlocked by Penelope Lively. It’s about the things in the house owned by her grandparents; things like the gong stand, the picnic rug, the potted meat jars and bon bon dishes. Lively skilfully links these objects to the way life changed in the 20th century. I don’t think I liked it so much because I am obsessed with bon bon dishes, although I am, I think it really is good. She also wrote another favourite of mine – The House at Norham Gardens – surely this counts because it has ‘house’ in the title. It’s a charming book about a young girl growing up in a “cold, dusty and peculiar” house in North Oxford that demands to be fed “new sinks and drainpipes and a sea of electricity”. Also featured is the Pitt Rivers Museum, the best museum in the world in my limited experience.
    When you have visited the lost gardens of Heligan you might consider swinging by the Minack Theatre, which was hewn out of a Cornish headland by one woman. It’s a theatre, not a house but there is a garden and it was nearly abandoned after World War Two so perhaps it might meet your criteria?

  3. linda blackwell 3 January 2013 / 2:02 pm

    i also love books about old houses and gardens,i read the forgotten garden by kate morton and loved it,I found a book at south library a couple of years ago called the grand passion,about a married couple doing up a house in brisbane, it was really good.would like to know also if there are more good books about old houses and gardens

  4. Marcia Heller 3 January 2013 / 6:24 pm

    I am interested in joining a book club in Christchurch. Anyone have any recommendations. I am near the CBD but can take a bus to meetings.

  5. rachaelccl 3 January 2013 / 6:45 pm

    I was trying to think what your book reminded me of – then I realised it was Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours. A friend recommended it to me after we realised we both love this book.

    • bronnypop 7 January 2013 / 9:28 am

      Of course! I’d forgotten about THAT book, thanks for the reminder, Rachael! I’m now finding all sorts of stories about old houses everywhere I go – lots of stories written for teens, but others too – do I feel a blog sequel coming on?

  6. Lynne James 7 January 2013 / 12:17 pm

    You could try an oldie – Merry Hall by Beverley Nicholls. Bev’s a bit of a luvvie, but it’s nice light holiday reading about his restoration of the garden of a country house, fictionalised.

    • linda blackwell 7 January 2013 / 1:11 pm

      thanks lynne i will reserve that book as it sounds like my kind of thing

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