Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Heirloom Garden

Title:  The Heirloom Garden
Author:  Viola Shipman
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2020. 416 pages.
ISBN:  1525804642 / 978-1525804649

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Harlequin Trade Publishing's 2020 Spring Read blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "We are an army, too."

Favorite Quote:  "Life is but a short journey, filled with such horror and beauty, that too often allows our potential and destiny to die unfulfilled or allow us to bloom in ways we never imagined. But I - all of us - really have only one joint destiny:  to leave this world a better place for those who follow."

The dictionary definition of an heirloom is an object that is passed down from generation to generation in a family. In gardening, heirloom plants and seeds are generally older varieties of plants that are passed down from generation to generation - in families or amongst collectors.

Both definitions apply in this book, that is first and foremost a love letter to gardens and gardeners. Each chapter is titled with the name of a flower, following the blooming seasons of the flower. Each flower is associated with a memory or an event. The book explains the gardening, of nurturing plants, of hybridizing, of creating plant starts, about weeding, and so much more.

Yet, it is done completely in the context of the human story for the flower and their significance become metaphors for the human emotions in the story. "The daisies remind you to be happy. The hydrangeas remind you to be colorful. The lilacs remind us to breath deeply. The pansies reflect our own images back at us. The hollyhocks remind us to stand tall in this world. And the roses - oh, the roses! - they remind us that beauty is always present even amongst the thorns."

Set in a beautiful garden in coastal Michigan, the human story of this book pulls together very serious  themes - war and its impact on soldiers and families and the glass ceiling women seem to hit so often in the corporate world. Gardening, war, and corporate America come together to make a story ultimately about family.

As with The Recipe Box, this plot of this book is a straightforward one with four primary characters. Iris loses her husband in the World War and her daughter to polio. She is a botanist, renowned for her work. With all the losses in her life, she has chosen to close herself off from the world and lives within her garden and her memories. Cory, Abby, and Lily are a young family who rent the adjoining house, which is owned by Iris. Cory suffers from his physical, mental, and emotional injuries from his service in the Iraq war. Abby is an engineer, trying to hold her family together and build a career in an industry dominated by men. Lily is young and innocent and full of love, much like Iris's own daughter Mary was.

The story is predictable; big issues of grief and PTSD seem to resolve somewhat quickly. The life advice is full of cliche reminders. Certain themes - hope, war, tragedy, and beauty - repeat again and again throughout the book as does the symbolism of the flowers:
  • "But most of all, it was a tribute to hope. Hope that something beautiful would grow despite the harsh winter, the frozen earth and a world that was constant at war."
  • "Life is filled with overwhelming tragedy, but it's also filled with incomparable beauty. I read somewhere that god doesn't come to us in the happy times. He comes to us through our scars and wounds."
  • "Isn't an ordinary life a grand one all its own, filled with great drama and tragedy, hopes, love, losses, and dreams?"
I don't know enough about Michigan gardening to know if Iris's garden could actually exist in that way on the shores of Lake Michigan. However, it does not matter. The fictional gardener comes to life. I can picture it, and, as someone familiar with the flower, I can almost smell it. I don't mind the life reminders either. We can all use the reminders at times, or at least I can. That is why the book works for me.


The Heirloom Garden
Blog Tour

Author: Viola Shipman
ISBN: 9781525804618
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher:  Graydon House


Author Bio:
Viola Shipman is the pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother's name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms and family stories inspire his writing. Rouse is the author of The Summer Cottage, as well as The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and become international bestsellers. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan and Palm Springs, California, and has written for People, Coastal Living, Good Housekeeping, and Taste of Home, along with other publications, and is a contributor to All Things Considered.
Book Summary:
In this heartwarming and feel-good novel filled with echoes of Dorothea Benton Frank, Debbie Macomber and Elizabeth Berg, two women separated by a generation but equally scarred by war find hope, meaning – and each other – through a garden of heirloom flowers.

Iris Maynard lost her husband in World War II, her daughter to loneliness and, finally, her reason to live. Walled off from the world for decades behind a towering fence surrounding her home and gardens, the former botanist has built a new family...of flowers. Iris propagates her own daylilies and roses while tending to an heirloom garden filled with starts – and memories – of her own mother, grandmother, husband and daughter.

When Abby Peterson moves to Grand Haven, Michigan, with her family – a husband traumatized during his service in the Iraq War and a young daughter searching for stability – they find themselves next door to Iris, and are slowly drawn into her reclusive neighbour's life where, united by loss and a love of flowers, Iris and Abby slowly unearth their secrets to each other. Eventually, the two teach one another that the earth grounds us all, gardens are a grand healer, and as flowers bloom so do our hopes and dreams.


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