The Gardener by Salley Vickers - review by Elizabeth Howcroft

Elizabeth Howcroft

Coming into Bloom

The Gardener

By

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Salley Vickers’s new novel begins with a woman in her forties moving to a run-down cottage in the Shropshire village of Hope Wenlock. The improbably named protagonist, Halcyon Days (she goes by ‘Hassie’), has bought the cottage with her sister, the two of them combining their inheritances after their parents’ deaths. Hassie is haunted by memories of two men: her recently deceased father and her former lover, Robert, a married man with whom she had an affair. The gardener of the novel’s title is Murat, a local Albanian immigrant hired by Hassie to help her tame the cottage’s neglected grounds.

Vickers has a knack for nature writing. The Gardener brims with well-researched details of flowers, birds and other features of the landscape. While some urban readers may be unfamiliar with terms like ‘snicket’, ‘lychgate’, ‘forsythia’ and ‘phlox’, there is a sense that we are discovering this new taxonomy alongside the protagonist as she borrows books about wild flowers and gardens to help her decipher her environment.

Hope Wenlock is in the Welsh Marches, the ancient name for the ill-defined area of borderland between Wales and England. It soon becomes clear that Hassie too finds herself in a liminal space: she is caught between medieval and modern worlds, between imagination and reality, and between her

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