There are times when you simply cannot make it outside to garden, no matter how badly you are itching to bury your hands in some good, clean soil. Whether you are stuck inside because of nasty weather, an injury, or another inconvenience that keeps you homebound, you can relieve your gardening cabin fever by enjoying the exploits of these fictional gardeners.
Although the works on this list won’t replicate what it feels like to dig, plant, water, and weed your own garden, each offers lovely gardens and captivating gardeners to help you while away the indoor hours until you can get outside again.
Here are several fictional gardeners that you can spend the day with anytime you need a gardening fix but are stuck inside.
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
Set during the post-World War II Malayan Emergency, this story follows Yun Ling Teoh, a young Malayan lawyer and the sole survivor of a Japanese wartime camp. She travels to the Cameron Highlands in Malaya to meet with Aritomo, a Japanese exile and the former head gardener for the emperor of Japan.
Aritomo has created Yugiri, a Japanese garden within the Malayan jungle, and Yun Ling hopes to engage him to create a garden in honor of her sister, who died in the Japanese camp. Instead, Aritomo asks Yun Ling to become his apprentice so that she can create the garden herself. During the months that follow, Yun Ling is drawn to both the beauty of Yugiri and the mystery of Aritomo, all while coming to terms with happened during the war.
The reader learns about Yun Ling’s character, as well as the art and the precision of Japanese gardening, through the author’s luminous descriptions of Yugiri and its contrast with the lush jungle and tea plantations that surround it.
Nominated for the 2012 Man Booker Prize, The Garden of Evening Mists is part-romance, part-war drama, and part-love letter to gardens and gardening.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
When we first meet Victoria Jones in this elegant debut novel, she has just turned 18 and aged out of the San Francisco foster care system, which has failed her since birth. She leaves the group home on the day of her emancipation with a few clothes and a book on the Victorian language of flowers—a gift from Elizabeth, the foster mother she had not been able to keep.
Victoria uses the arcane language of flowers to communicate her grief (zinnias), anger (peonies), and mistrust (lavender) with the world, content in the knowledge that no one can understand her floral-based communications. But after living in a public park for several weeks, Victoria finds a job with a florist and encounters Grant, a flower wholesaler who responds to her floral messages and starts to break down her reserves.
As she learns to let people in again after a lifetime of disappointment and mistrust, Victoria must face the tragic mistake that cost her the happiness she felt with Elizabeth. The language of flowers and her love of their beauty help her to verbalize the things she just cannot say.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This classic novel has been introducing readers to the sheer, unbridled joy of bringing forth flowers and plants from the earth since 1910. Though the story is about a young girl, Mary Lennox, adults will enjoy the story just as much as juvenile readers.
At the start of the novel, Mary is orphaned and sent to live with her uncle in the Yorkshire moors of England. She is angry and sour when she arrives, yet her uncle is disinterested in anything beyond his own despair. Finding the house full of locked doors, Mary occupies herself by exploring the surrounding grounds where she discovers a secret walled garden that used to belong to the mistress of the house, who died within its walls.
Though the garden appears to be dead, Mary is delighted to find some evidence of new growth, and she begins to cultivate the garden with the help of a local boy named Dickon. As the garden starts to bloom, Mary meets a mysterious boy named Colin living in the house, and they work together in the garden to bring back life and health—for the flowers and themselves.
There are aspects of this feel-good story that have not aged well—such as Mary’s attitude toward India—but the descriptions of gardening and the wind over the moor are vivid enough to transport you to the secret garden along with Mary, Dickon, and Colin.
Vanish with the Rose by Barbara Michaels
Using an assumed name and pretending to be a landscape architect, Diana Reed arrives at the 18th-century Virginia estate where her missing brother was last seen. Lying does not come easily to Diana, particularly after she meets Emily and Charles Nicholson, the kind and welcoming new owners of the estate who trust her falsified credentials and invite her stay at the house while planning the new gardens.
Her brother had been working for the previous owner of the mansion, so Diana gets to know the Nicholsons’ son, Andrew Davis, who sold the house, the local contractor Walt, who reluctantly agrees to vouch for her, and the cleaning woman Mary Jo, who just escaped an abusive marriage.
With these allies, Diana uncovers the truth about her brother, as well as the truth about a long-ago tragedy which echoes into the present. Throughout the story, the rose garden offers solace to Diana, and clues to the mystery of what happened there in both the recent and the distant past.
In the Garden Trilogy by Nora Roberts
This trilogy comprises the books Blue Dahlia, Black Rose, and Red Lily. The novels center around Harper House, an old and infamous mansion outside of Memphis, Tennessee. Long-widowed Rosalind Harper Ashby is the current owner of Harper House, and she has built a nursery on the grounds which brings young widow Stella Rothchild and unattached and pregnant Hayley Phillips looking for work.
The three women—all of them single mothers and avid gardeners—form a strong friendship as they live and work together at Harper House. Their relationships with each other, and with the new men who come into their lives, rouse the angry ghost that has long haunted Harper House. Each of the three novels is written from one woman’s perspective, and you learn more about how gardening helped to save each woman at the lowest point in her life and the tragic history of the vengeful ghost.
Nora Roberts never fails to deliver a happy ending, and this trilogy is no different. You will set these books down in a better mood, having learned more about everything from the propagation of exotic flowers to southern landscape design.
This 1992 film is based upon the 1922 novel of the same name by Elizabeth von Arnim. The story begins in England, where Lottie Wilkins (Josie Lawrence) and Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson) are both overwhelmed by the dreary British weather and their overbearing husbands. They decide to rent a small Italian medieval castle on the shores of the Mediterranean after reading an advertisement describing the place as drenched in sunshine and wisteria.
To save money, Lottie and Rose advertise for two other women to join them. The elderly and disapproving widow Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright) and the gorgeous young flapper Lady Caroline Dester (Polly Walker) make up the rest of their party. As the women soak in the romance of the flowers surrounding the castle, they each come to understand what will make them happy when they return home to London.
The cinematography of Enchanted April brings out the beauty of the Italian gardens surrounding the castle, and nearly every scene is bursting with color and sunshine—making this an excellent film to watch when it’s too dreary for your own gardening. Enchanted April is available for rental or purchase through Amazon Prime’s streaming service.
Rosemary & Thyme
This British television program ran from 2003–2006. A cozy mystery, it revolves around Rosemary Boxer (Felicity Kendal), a former horticulture lecturer, and Laura Thyme (Pam Ferris), a former Woman Police Constable, who work together to solve garden-related crimes. In the first episode, the women are thrown together because of a sudden death. They realize they share a common love of gardening—and that working in a garden provides an excellent opportunity for overhearing secrets and digging up clues.
Each episode features a new mystery for Rosemary and Laura to solve, as well as a gorgeous English or European garden for viewers to enjoy. The friendship that develops between the women is both funny and touching, and each mystery seamlessly weaves in gardening lore. This is a great show to either savor one at a time or binge-watch.
Rosemary & Thyme is available through Netflix and YouTube. Each of the 22 episodes is 45 minutes long and perfect for a rainy afternoon.
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