Canada Reads·Canadian

The Lost Garden

Helen Humphreys' novel explores love, loss and longing through the eyes of a young woman working as a gardener during the Second World War.

Helen Humphreys

This lyrical, heartbreaking novel is set in early 1941 in Britain when the war seems endless and, perhaps, hopeless. London is on fire from the Blitz, and a young woman gardener named Gwen Davis flees the burning city for the Devon countryside, where she teaches a group of girls how to grow crops as their contribution to the war effort. There, she crosses paths with two people who will have a lasting effect on her life. Helen Humphreys' moving novel explores love, loss and longing with insight and clarity.

The Lost Garden was a contender for Canada Reads in 2003. It was defended by Mag Ruffman.

From the book

What can I say about love? You might see me sitting in this taxi, bound for Paddington Station — a 35-year-old woman with plain features — and you would think that I could not know anything of love. But I am leaving London because of love.

I wasn't born in the city, have only lived here for the past 10 years, since I left gardening college and came to work at the Royal Horticultural Society. But what is love if not instant recognition? A moment of being truly equal to something. What I recognized in this place, from the moment I arrived here, was something within myself that I didn't even know was there. Something under the skin, in the blood. A pulse of familiarity. The wild, lovely clutter of London. Small streets that twisted like rivers. Austere stone cathedrals. The fast, muddy muscle of the Thames, holding the city apart from itself; the tension of that moving gap, palpable, felt. I have leaned over the stone balustrade of the Embankment in the dark, the true dark now of the blackouts when even starlight is an act of treachery. In blacked-out London, people, once familiar with the city, bump along the streets, fumbling from building to building as though blind. But I have stood beside the Thames and felt it there, twining beneath my feet like a root.

But this is what can no longer be trusted. Every day the landscape is radically altered. Houses become holes. Solids become spaces. Anything can disappear overnight. How can love survive this fact? 

From The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys ©2002. Published by HarperCollins Canada.