A love story with a difference, as English cookbook author and third-novelist Leith (Sisters, 2002, etc.) deftly portrays an Englishwoman smitten with a famous garden—and the two men who vie for her heart.
As in many Brit novels through the centuries, the essential plot is deliciously embellished with generous amounts of lore about old country houses, famous gardeners, and the landscapes they designed. Agreeably contemporary, however, is the tale of middle-aged Lotte Warren, whose professional life is as absorbing and fulfilling as her family and lovers. When husband Sam leaves her and their three children for a younger woman, Lotte, now in her 40s, abandons her architectural practice and, following her heart’s desire, studies horticulture. Once qualified, she is employed by Brody Keegan, a charming and veddy rich Irish entrepreneur who has just bought Maddon Park, a stately 15th-century estate. Lotte moves there with her children and, given a free hand, begins restoration work. A famous map of the grounds depicts such subsequently lost features as a grotto, fishponds, and a temple to the goddess Diana; Lotte is determined to find them. Meanwhile, Brody, married to superthin model Jade, is more interested in making a splash than restoring the past, but he soon admires not only Lotte’s energy and vision but her warmth and beauty. Also smitten with her midlife charms is Peter, archivist at an Oxford college that owns many of the estate archives. He’s good with the kids and helpful in researching the past, but while Lotte is grateful for his company, she’s sexually attracted to Brody—and the feeling is mutual. He and Jade have been spending lavishly, and when Brody’s dot-com empire crumbles, Lotte’s budget is severely curtailed. Brody moves to the US to raise capital, but Maddon Park, with Lotte’s help, has a golden future. As for our heroine, her own future may be unconventional—but, naturally, it’s a happy one.
Intelligent summer reading, light but perceptive about the many passions that obsess and delight. Gardeners will especially appreciate.