The Unfinished Garden by Barbara Claypole White

A quick rundown… Tilly, a widow and garden whiz, is approached by a stranger to build him a garden. After a family emergency, Tilly runs across the Atlantic to her mother’s aid – and James follows her.

Strengths: Characters are unique with quirks.

Weaknesses: Occasionally a little predictable – but a fun ride.

Why I read it: ARC sent to me by Harlequin – thank you!

Pages: 364 (ARC)

Published: 2012

Publisher: Harlequin

Setting: America and England

Rating: 8 out of 10


When I first opened The Unfinished Garden, I thought it would be a predictable story about a widow finding love again. How wrong I was! The novel is much more than a single storyline – it twists multiple lines about family, friendship, grief, health and love – in a pleasing package.

The novel opens on our protagonist Tilly, who is working in her garden/business, Piedmont Perennials. Her friend and colleague suggests she should expand what is an already successful business even further, but Tilly is reluctant. After losing her husband unexpectedly, she just wants to take things slowly with her son Isaac. Of course, life never works that way and enter handsome stranger, James. James wants Tilly to design a garden for him, but Tilly refuses repeatedly, as she’s not a landscaper. Meanwhile, in Tilly’s native England, her mother suffers an injury and Tilly flies home to be with her.

Tilly’s idyllic English countryside escape is not to be. Her ex-lover, Sebastian, has returned home, newly single and something is up with her best friend Rowena. Then James appears from America to ask Tilly again about the garden. Tilly finds herself confiding in him more and more as life keeps throwing lemons at her…

I don’t want to spoil the storyline for you, but there is so much more in this book. The characters are realistic, and I truly felt for them as they battled their demons. Claypole White also writes about obsessive-compulsive disorder with a sensitive insight that will change your perception about the disease. On the relationship side, the story is not predictable, but warm and engaging. The romance (not that I think there’s a great deal in this book – I’d class it as general fiction) is not overwhelming. I’d say that this book explores many different types of relationships:

  • The awkward one with your ex-lover – is it really over?
  • Your best friend – what is she hiding?
  • Your mother – it’s difficult to grasp that she gets old too!
  • Your dead husband – when can you let go? Should you?
  • New friends – the excitement of learning about someone new.
  • Your children – how much should they know about difficult topics and when?

The growing friendship between James and Tilly is a marvellous dance to watch – two steps forward and one step back. I really enjoyed reading when they were able to use their personal strengths (e.g. Tilly encouraging James to get his hands dirty) to help each other to grow and seal their friendship.

This was a really pleasant and thoughtful book to read – the plot was engaging, the characters realistically flawed and the action moving at just the right pace.


2 thoughts on “The Unfinished Garden by Barbara Claypole White

Add yours

  1. I usually don’t read full-on romantic novels, but this certainly does not sound like one 🙂 In a good way, I mean! It is refreshing to see that more and more books are written about real people, who deal with real issues!

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