The Forgotten Garden

by Kate Morton

Reviewed by Susan Gillmor

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton The Forgotten Garden is an intricate, beautifully written novel comprising fairy tales and recurring images of loss and discovery, twins and changelings, gardens and mazes. Three generations of women, Eliza Makepeace, Nell Andrews, and Cassandra Ryan, come to life in its pages, beginning in the 1890s in Britain with twists into the 1910s in Australia and jags into the 1970s, turning into the present day.

Although ties link all the women with the Mountratchet family at Blackhurst, an estate in Cornwall, Nell is found on a dock in Australia in 1913, all alone and without a name or memories of her beginnings. Only the meager contents of her small white suitcase and a beautifully illustrated book of fairy tales offer clues to her true identity. She is adopted by a kind portmaster and his wife and raised as their own in a small coastal village in Australia.

Nell's secure childhood is shattered on her twenty-first birthday when her father, Hugh, reveals the mystery of her origins. Her “past was like a Russian doll, question inside question, inside question.” She decides she must go to “the heart of the mystery, to Cornwall,” to follow the trail blazed by Eliza before her and to “where once her family had lived and she, as a little girl, had roamed.”

But unveiling the final chapters in her story will fall to her beloved granddaughter Cassandra. At the center of the mystery, as we might expect, “is a garden, a walled garden. Overgrown but with beautiful bones visible still. Someone had cared for this garden once.” What Cassandra discovers at the heart of the garden behind an abandoned cottage makes sense of every fairy tale, every secret, every twist in this entrancing story. “Suddenly, she knew. The word came to her, ancient and familiar. Maze. . . . Awareness, instant and fully formed: at its end was a most glorious place.” Kate Morton has crafted a literary treasure. (2008, 549 pages)

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Other historical novels involving gardens:

The Gentleman's Garden by Catherine Jinks (2005), about a homesick, unhappily married Englishwoman in Australia whose life changes when she begins creating an English-style cottage garden with the help of her convict servant. Review or More info at

The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys (2002), about a London woman who discovers a secret garden overrun with weeds on the estate where she is supervising a group of Land Girls during World War II. Review or More info

Quakertown by Lee Martin (2001), about a gifted black gardener persuaded to cooperate with the white community in Denton, Texas, in moving the black community farther away from the center of town in 1921. Review or More info

Nonfiction about garden mazes:

Mazes and Labyrinths by Adrian Fisher (1997) explores the thousand-year history of mazes and labyrinths. More info

Mazes and Labyrinths: Their History and Development by W.H. Matthews (1969). More info

Magical Paths: Labyrinths and Mazes in the 21st Century by Jeff Saward (2006), about the revival of mazes and labyrinths in the present day. More info


Historic Hedge Mazes at

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