Saturday, July 09, 2022

Gardens Set in Favourite Summertime Books

Wakehurst Place, England, July 2016

"Always be on the lookout for
the presence of wonder."

Happy Saturday! Today I'm relying on a post I wrote a couple of summers ago about favourite books that include scenes set in gardens. I agree with author Penelope Lively when she says gardens can be an atmospheric ingredient in a story. Who isn't drawn in when you find the heroine leaning through an open window to catch the scent of lilacs in the air, or she's out for a stroll in the rose garden on a silky summer evening. Some of these storybook gardens are so richly described they create actual memories for me of places I've only visited in my mind's eye—that's how real they are to me. It's a blissful mingling of life and story and imagination.

In today's post I had great fun pairing excerpts from each book with favourite photos I took during our memorable visit to England in 2016. I hope you find this revised edition worth your visit.

At Hever Castle, England, July 2016

By Jane Austen (novel)

"Will you tell me how long you have loved him?"

"It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley." (so said Miss Elizabeth Bennett)

A very good reason to fall in love with the man, don't you think? I know there are some who think more cynically about why she was smitten after seeing the abundance of that great estate. To my view, surely a fellow who appreciates such beauty around him must also have beauty in his soul. No wonder Mr. Darcy lingers long in our imaginations.

Penshurst Place, England, July 2016

by Julia Kelly (historical fiction)

(1909) "I have never understood 'gardeners' who refuse to garden because it is unseemly for a lady or gentleman to dirty their hands. Perhaps they don't know the thrill of plunging a trowel into spring-softened soil to toss up the sweet, earthy scent of leaves and twigs and all manner of matter. By refusing to stain their aprons, they miss the sensation of damp, fresh dirt crumbling between their fingers or breathing the fresh air deeply. They don't know the satisfaction of knocking the dust off one's clothes when retreating into the house for a well-earned cup of tea."

Nymans Garden and Home, West Sussex, July 2016 

by Frances Hodgson Burnett (novel)

"It was the sweetest, most mysterious-looking place any one could imagine. The high walls which shut it in were covered with the leafless stems of climbing roses which were so thick that they were matted together.  . . . All the ground was covered with grass of a wintry brown and out of it grew clumps of bushes which were surely rose-bushes if they were alive. There were numbers of standard roses which had so spread their branches that they were like little trees. There were other trees in the garden, and one of the things which made the place look strangest and loveliest was that climbing roses had run all over them and swung down long tendrils which made light swaying curtains, and here and there they had caught at each other."

Nymans Garden and House, West Sussex, July 2016

by Elizabeth Goudge (novel)

"Mary waved to her and went back to the garden. She walked slowly along the moss-grown path beside the jungle that had once been a herbaceous border, her thoughts busy with Michaelmas daisies, golden rod and peonies.  . . .  
They crossed the road to the orchard and leaned on the gate, the scent of apple blossom coming to them on the light wind. From the crimson of the unopened buds to the white of the fully opened petals, every gradation of rose color was present in flights and drifts on the lichened branches. The apple trees were old and it seemed a miracle that such misshapen age could support this airy lightness."

Scotney Castle Gardens, England, July 2016

by Daphne du Maurier (novel)

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. . ."

"I wondered why it was that places are so much lovelier when one is alone. How commonplace and stupid it would be if I had a friend now, sitting beside me, someone I had known at school, who would say: 'By-the-way, I saw old Hilda the other day. You remember her, the one who was so good at tennis. She’s married, with two children.' And the bluebells beside us unnoticed, and the pigeons overhead unheard. I did not want anyone with me. Not even Maxim. If Maxim had been there I should not be lying as I was now, chewing a piece of grass, my eyes shut. I should have been watching him, watching his eyes, his expression. Wondering if he liked it, if he was bored. Wondering what he was thinking. Now I could relax, none of these things mattered. Maxim was in London. How lovely it was to be alone again."

Scotney Castle Gardens, England, July 2016

by L.M. Montgomery (novel)

The Blue Castle doesn't have a garden exactly, but when Valancy moved with her new husband to the woodsy island where he lived, she found paradise. And so I had to include it in this collection. I have loved this story since forever.

"It was rapture enough just to sit there beside him in silence, alone in the summer night in the white splendor of moonshine, with the wind blowing down on them out of the pine woods." . . .

Barney knew the woods as a book and he taught their lore and craft to Valancy. He could always find trail and haunt of the shy wood people. Valancy learned the different fairy-likenesses of the mosses—the charm and exquisiteness of woodland blossoms. She learned to know every bird at sight and mimic its call—though never so perfectly as Barney. She made friends with every kind of tree."

Wildflowers at RHS Garden Wisely, England, July 2016

by Rosamunde Pilcher (novel)

"A long rope was strung between three of these trees, and here Penelope pegged out her washing. Doing this, on a bright fresh morning, was one of her deepest delights. A thrush was singing, and at her feet, thrusting through the tufty damp grass, bulbs were already beginning to shoot. She had planted these herself, thousands of them; daffodils and crocus and scilla and snowdrops.

When these faded and the summer grass grew deep and green, other wildflowers raised their heads. Cowslips and cornflowers and scarlet poppies, all grown from seed that she had scattered herself .  . . . (She'd) pause by her little tree of Viburnum Fragrans, its twiggy stems smothered in deep pink blossom that smelled, miraculously, of summer. She would fetch her secateurs and clip a sprig or two, to scent the sitting room."

Scotney Castle and Gardens, England, July 2016

by Elizabeth von Arnim (novel)

"All down the stone steps on either side were periwinkles in full flower, and she could now see what it was that had caught at her the night before and brushed, wet and scented, across her face. It was wisteria. Wisteria and sunshine . . . she remembered the advertisement.

Here indeed were both in profusion. The wisteria was tumbling over itself in its excess of life, its prodigality of flowering; and where the pergola ended the sun blazed on scarlet geraniums, bushes of them, and nasturtiums in great heaps, and marigolds so brilliant that they seemed to be burning, and red and pink snapdragons, all outdoing each other in bright, fierce colour. . . . The cherry-trees and peach-trees were in blossom—lovely showers of white and deep rose-colour among the trembling delicacy of the olives; the fig-leaves were just big enough to smell of figs, the vine-buds were only beginning to show. And beneath these trees were groups of blue and purple irises, and bushes of lavender, and grey, sharp cactuses, and the grass was thick with dandelions and daisies, and right down at the bottom was the sea. Colour seemed flung down anyhow, anywhere; every sort of colour piled up in heaps, pouring along in rivers."

You might also want to seek out Elizabeth's semi-autobiographical novel Elizabeth and Her German Garden. It's entertaining reading on a summer afternoon.

Hollyhocks at Downe House, home of Charles Darwin, July 2016

by L.M. Montgomery(novel)

"Beyond were the "back fields" of the farms that ran out to the upper Carmody road. Just before them, hemmed in by beeches and firs but open to the south, was a little corner and in it a garden . . . or what had once been a garden. A tumbledown stone dyke, overgrown with mosses and grass, surrounded it. Along the eastern side ran a row of garden cherry trees, white as a snowdrift. There were traces of old paths still and a double line of rosebushes through the middle; but all the rest of the space was a sheet of yellow and white narcissi, in their airiest, most lavish, wind-swayed bloom above the lush green grasses."

Heliotrope in an English country garden, July 2016

by Agatha Christie (mystery)

Miss Marple of St Mary Mead, in Agatha Christie's Nemesis, is advised to take a Famous Houses and Gardens tour to see the sights and visit gardens she's not seen before. It's all part of a master plan to catch a murderer amongst the florabundas.

" 'Miss Marple said, looking at the flowers near her, 'How beautiful peonies are. That long border of them—so proud and yet so beautifully fragile.' . . .

After luncheon she was taken on a tour of the garden. It was Anthea who was deputed to accompany her. . . .They had come along a grass path and were pausing in front of a kind of hillock that rested against the wall at one end of it.

'Our greenhouse,' said Miss Anthea mournfully.

'Oh, yes, where you had such a delightful grapevine.'

'Three vines,' said Anthea. 'A black Hamburg and one of those small white grapes, very sweet, you know. And a third one of beautiful muscats.'

'And a heliotrope, you said.'

'Cherry pie,' said Anthea.

'Ah, yes, cherry pie*. Such a lovely smell...' "

*NB. Heliotrope is said to smell of cherries and vanilla, hence it's also known as cherry pie plant.

Somewhere in England, July 2016

Secrets in a Country Garden
by Daniel Blajan (essays)

"I crept out of bed and sneaked unobserved through the back door into the garden. It was not yet dark, but the sun had already set and it was one of those rare, serene nights when you feel you could almost catch the light and hold it in your hand like a shimmering violet treasure. A perfect night for the flowers to dance. I looked around the garden surreptitiously, but obviously all the flowers had already noticed my arrival, and they remained as stiff as pokers. I tiptoed to the shed and stealthily peeped around the wall. It was then that I beheld a great and breathtaking miracle: in the still of the night, the flowers of the evening primroses were coming to life. The pale yellow petals were unfolding one by one, flower by flower, like the wings of butterflies.  . . .
My keen ears picked up their voices too: a soft, mysterious sighing, like whispers from elfin lips. Soon the night moths joined the party and began to feast on the nectar. In great numbers they flitted from flower to flower, adding even more grace to this floral ballet."

Statue nestled in Pashley Gardens, England, July 2016

by Celia Thaxter (gardening/memoir)

"At the Isles of Shoals, among the ledges of the largest island, Appledore, lies the small garden.  . . . Ever since I could remember anything, flowers have been like dear friends to me, comforters, inspirers, powers to uplift and to cheer. A lonely child, living on the lighthouse island ten miles away from the mainland, every blade of grass that sprang out of the ground, every humblest weed, was precious in my sight, and I began a little garden when not more than five years old.  . . . The first small bed at the lighthouse island contained Marigolds, pot Marigolds, fire-colored blossoms which were the joy of my heart and the delight of my eyes."

Sweet Peas in an English Country Garden, July 2016

by Rosamunde Pilcher (novel)

"Now, she entered the house through the French windows that led from the terrace into the drawing room. After the brightness of the day outside, the interior seemed very cool and dim, and smelled of the sweet peas that, this morning, Eve had arranged in a great bowl and placed on the round marquetry table that stood in the middle of the room.  . . . 

The next moment, he had gone, around the azaleas, through the gate, down the road through the village. She stood there, listening until there was nothing more to hear. Then she called Lucy and went back indoors.  . . . She slept until midday and awoke to find the room filled with bright noon sunshine. Out of bed, she went to the window and leaned out, her bare arms on the warm sill. The garden simmered in the heat of yet another good day. A man in overalls was working in one of the flowerbeds; the distant sea was a cup of blue."

And there you have it, a few of my favourite summertime books where gardens play their charming role in the stories being told. Do you have any titles that you'd add to this list?

Wishing you a beautiful sun-kissed day,


Photos in this post are mine


  1. That was wonderful and makes me want to do some re-reading. Thank you for this truly was a labor of love.

  2. What a lovely idea to pair beautiful garden photos with script. And I'm so happy that you included The Scent of water and The Secret Garden.

  3. Beautiful pictures and I'm sure they hold special memories for you.

  4. Thank you for this list! I've ordered two from my library system and realized have have two others on my bookshelves that I've yet to read. These should keep me happily ensconced inside during the heat and humidity that shrivels up my garden by August!

  5. What a lovely post -- visually and your selections as well. The selections are so very diverse -- I love that! Several of those books are "old friends" of mine! You're right -- words and gardens are a beautiful match!

  6. Such beautiful pairings of words and images, Brenda, with a bit of travel thrown in. I love all of these selections.

  7. I love this post, Brenda! It's so nice to re-visit some of my favorite books, and I've added two to my list of books to read. One of my favorite reads is The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.

  8. Oh Brenda! That was beautiful! I've not read many of those books, and it's always lovely to read about gardens! Thank you for sharing that with us!

  9. Thank you for another lovely post!

  10. Oh Brenda!
    Again!! What a GIFT you have given to me and to all of your readers!! Yes, a real gift of labor!!! LOVE all the photos from English gardens!!! Of course, I want to go to England!!
    All of the selections were vivid ; could be “felt” and “seen!”
    I just SO appreciate your beautiful spirit and SO appreciate your work in sharing it with so many of us who seem to love the things you love and appreciate. I always appreciate being reminded of “the beauty that abounds!!!!!” ~ So many “thank yous!” ~ Ann

  11. What a fabulous post! I'm going to write down these books and see if I can find some of them. I read a lot of mysteries but I love so many of the books you've featured. Thanks for taking the time to write this! Happy reading!


To My Beautiful Readers,

Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same. ~ Franz Peter Schubert

Thank you so much for leaving your 'footprint' here in my comment box. I do appreciate you taking a moment to share your thoughts today.

Brenda xo