Thursday, October 15, 2020

Alphabet 2020: V is for Virtual Garden featuring The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman

I am not really a gardener. It's just really not something that interests me that much. I have a friend who regularly tells me that it is relaxing but I don't really see it.

It's not that we don't have gardens. Currently in the front garden we have the most ginormous bird of paradise, a very old rose bush, as well as some other plants, but they are about to go as we re-landscape the front garden. The plan is to put some flowering plants in, it will be more like native flowers, or contained in planter boxes.

Out the back we put a lot of native plants around the deck and they are even currently flowering but that's more by good luck than good management, I think.

The wildflowers around my deck right now. They are tiny flowers, but pretty.

The gigantic bird of paradise by the front door!

I am really hoping to keep this flower in the new garden. I really should try to get a photo of the front of the flower too

So imagine my surprise when I am reading a book that has me thinking that maybe I am secretly more interested in gardening than I thought I was. The title of the book, The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman, should have given me something of a clue as to the fact that gardens would going to play a big part in the book. What I didn't expect though was to find myself thinking things like, maybe I should see how much x plant will cost? And googling different types of flowers.

Let me tell you a little about the book

When Abby, Cory and their daughter Lily move into their new rental property in Grand Haven, Michigan, there is one thing that is made crystal clear. Their neighbour, Iris, who is also the owner of the house they now live in, is not to be disturbed, ever.

Abby has a lot on her plate. She is starting a new job in a very male dominated enviroment, her husband is not coping with life at all and she's not sure she can trust him to look after her daughter while she's working. Cory is a former soldier who is clearly still grappling with what he saw and experienced in Iraq.

Iris too is still living with the legacy of war. In her case though, it is the death of her husband during World War II and her young daughter not long after. She has struggled for years, to the point where she built a very tall wall around her house, and very rarely emerges outside it. Inside those walls, however, is a garden that reminds her of her loved ones, from her grandmother and mother who taught her to garden, to the rose that she developed in memory of her husband and more. 

Starting in April through to December we spend time with Iris looking at the various phases of her garden, where each bloom has it's season. Iris tends to all of her flowers with meticulous care, often naming them, and all of them bringing her memories back. She is also a master at cross-breeding to create new colours for her flowers. 

Gradually, the neighbours begin to bond, predominantly over their shared love of flowers, but it soon becomes clear that these four people can help each other with their trauma.

I loved this book so much. I really enjoyed reading about Iris, both past and present, and my heart broke for her as she looked back over her life. I also really enjoyed getting to know Abby, Cory and Lily, and loved the way that they were drawn together. 

I also found myself googling Grand Haven to try and see pictures of what was being described. It sounds like such a beautiful place to live.

One of the other things I loved about this book was the way it is structured. Each section is headed by the name of a particular flower, which then features in the section. Along the way the author gives us legends, history and childhood memories that I learnt a lot from. 

For my post today, I thought I would share each of the section titles with some pictures (and other observations in an attempt to share a little of this book!

Roses - As I mentioned, I do have a rose bush in my garden, which does give off lovely blooms, butI suspect it is probably at least 40 years old, so it is gnarled and not possible to prune to a neat shape. It is also right where the driveway is going to be extended into so that we have enough car parking space, so from a practical perspective, it's days are numbered.

Lilac-  It shouldn't be a surprise that I like the lilac coloured lilacs - I mean purple!

Bleeding Hearts - I hadn't heard of this plant before, but they are so pretty. I really enjoyed the Japanese fable that Iris told Lily, which you can read a version of here.

Trillium - This was a new to me flower which is a protected species in Michigan. And it's easy to see why this plant may be called trillium

Iris- The word iris comes from the Greek word for rainbows, because apparently they come in so many colours. Colour me surprised! I love irises and they are one type of flower that I will buy myself, but I had no idea that they weren't just purple with little yellow accents. LEt alone that you can get things like bearded irises.

Peony - How pretty is this flower?

Day Lillies - I found all the different ways that Iris cross bred her day lillies, to create new colours. So fascinating, but also requiring such patience as it took three years before you could see how the new flower looks. But it's kind of sad to think that these beautiful blooms only last a day.

Hollyhocks - "Put you ear next to the bell," my grandma would say. It's just like a seashell. It can tell you the story of it's life"

Ladies Mantle - Whilst this doesn't look as glamourous as some of the other plants,the story of how the water clings to the leaves and looks like sparkling diamonds was a delight.

Surprise Lillies - I often get a surprise when I go out into the garden and find some flowers, but I suspect that my surprise is for a different reasons than why these flowers are called surprises!

Coneflowers - I had no idea where echinacea came from, but I had no idea that it came from such a pretty flower as this.

Hydrangeas - Hydrangeas are one type of flower that I was familiar with. I thought I would share a paragraph to give you a taste of the writng

There was a candy store downtown when I was a little girl - Ye Old Fudge Factory - and the counter ran the entire length of the store. It was lined with glass globes filled with a rainbow world of candy: jelly beans, gumballs, gummy bears, sours, licorice, caramels, chocolates. The colors of my hydrangeas are like cotton candy: iridescent blue, lilac, lim, purple and the most beautiful stawberries-and cream panicle hydrangeas.

Black Eyed Susans - I think this colour just says summer to me! 

Dahlia - I had no idea that dahlia's are the national flower of Mexico!

Christmas Cactus - I tend to buy poinsettas if I am going to buy any new plants for Christmas, but I could be tempted to buy this. I am not sure if we can get them here or not!

In case it isn't clear, I just loved this book so much! And you definitely don't need to be gardener to appreciate this beautiful book!

Definitely a 5/5 read for me!


  1. I enjoyed your writing and flower photos. The book featured in your post sounds like my kind of book. Lovely post!

    1. Hi Suko

      This was such a good book. I really enjoyed it!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Seeing as how you're lucky enough to live in a place where a bird of paradise can bloom in your yard, you're not likely to have much luck with lilacs, which need cold winters. What you call "surprise lilies" here are also called "naked ladies"!

    1. Apparently lilacs grow pretty well here Jeanne, but not in my garden lol.

  3. This book was a winner. Loved it.

  4. I'm not a gardener either. I do have an aloe vera plant and a small cactus on a window ledge in my kitchen - they're only still alive because they are very hardy! I love looking at other people's flowers, but I'm not at all interested in growing them myself as I have a tendency to kill plants.

    I'm glad you liked THE HEIRLOOM GARDEN. I DNF'd it pretty early because I found it really boring. Maybe I should have stuck with it. At any rate, I'm glad it was a gem for you.

    1. That surprised me Susan. I thought that you might have enjoyed it.

  5. I loved this book and so happy you enjoyed it too. Your thoughts are making me want to read it again. I am not much of a gardener, it is relaxing but I mostly just pull weeds. I do have a bit of lilac blooming at the moment.

    1. Well done you for getting the lilac going Kathryn!

  6. I have a black thumb, but I do admire pretty gardens. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this novel