The Winter Garden by Heidi Swain: Laughter, tears, smiles and the warmth of community spirit are guaranteed from start to finish - book review -
Light the fire, cuddle up close and escape into the warm glow of wintertime and Christmas with the much-loved queen of feelgood Heidi Swain.
Anyone who has read and loved Swain’s gorgeous novels, Sunshine and Sweet Peas in Nightingale Square and Poppy’s Recipe for Life, will already know the small community living in a cosy corner of the bustling city of Norwich.
Swain, who lives with her family in picturesque south Norfolk, won thousands of hearts with her enchanting stories set in Wynbridge, the fictional Fenland town where love blossoms whatever the season.
And now she has found an idyllic city hideaway for heartwarming and entertaining stories which showcase her talent for blending escapist romance, culinary and horticultural delights, and a perfectly imagined cast of characters, with some real-life challenges in the modern world.
So if you yearn to catch up with some familiar names – and a few new ones – then meet the adorable Freya Fuller and her rescue dog Nell as they leave behind grief and heartache to dig out a new life in warm and welcoming Nightingale Square.
Freya is living her dream, working as a live-in, hands-on gardener on a beautiful Suffolk estate. But when the elderly owner, Eloise Thurlow-Forbes, dies, Freya loses not just her boss but her friend and mentor and finds herself forced out of her job and her home with nowhere to go and just Eloise’s now unwanted rescue whippet Nell by her side.
Quite by chance, she hears on the radio about a job for a gardener to create a winter garden at Prosperous Place, a large mansion in Norwich which has a community space called Grow-Well for the residents of nearby Nightingale Square.
Freya, who has no formal training, has been emotionally estranged from her parents for years. As owners of a successful landscape gardening business, they disapprove of her hands-dirty, connect-with-nature approach to the job.
But Luke and Kate, who own Prosperous Place, are impressed with Freya’s belief in embracing nature and she’s soon moving to Nightingale Square and helping to create a beautiful winter garden that will be open to the public in time for Christmas.
And there’s a warm welcome from all the residents in Nightingale Square, except troubled Finn, the fiery artist who looks like a Viking and is just as fierce, who has been commissioned by Luke to make sculptures for the new garden.
No matter how hard Freya and Finn try, they just can’t seem to get along, and working together to bring the winter garden to life quickly becomes a struggle for them both. Will they be able to put their differences aside in time for Christmas or will the arrival of a face from Freya’s past send peace hopes spiralling?
Bestseller Swain is on her best magic-making form as Freya’s new life takes root amidst a shower of horticultural dramas, mishaps, misunderstandings… and snowfalls. But love – whether that is the love of friends and family or romantic love – is always in the air in Nightingale Square, and laughter, tears, smiles and the warmth of community spirit are guaranteed from start to finish.
As well as getting the latest news on Kate, Luke, Poopy, Ryan and the other characters from Nightingale Square who make our visits there such a delight, we can also share some moving moments as both Freya and the ‘supersized god in human form’ Finn finally face up to the old divisions that blight their lives.
Add on Swain’s sensitive exploration of grittier issues like seasonal affective disorder and mental health problems, the gardeners’ paradise conjured up in Prosperous Place, and the group of friends who have lit up the lives of readers, and you have the blooming tastiest dish of the Christmas season!
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)