The Lost Garden opens in London. The main character, Gwen Davis, calls London a "wild, lovely clutter" with "small streets that twisted like rivers" and "the fast, muddy muscle of the Thames, holding the city apart from itself."
But Gwen's city is the London of 1941. During the period from September 1940 until May 1941, Britain was under the constant threat of German bombs.
Gwen admits that "every day the landscape is radically altered. Houses become holes."
Devon is 150 miles southwest of London, the last English county before Cornwall.
Gwen's final destination is an estate called Mosel. "The estate is named after a house where my father used to live when his father was alive," says Humphreys.
According to Hutchinson Encyclopedia, Devon's topography is "hilly, with the rolling uplands of Dartmoor, and its numerous rugged tors, in the southwest. On the lower slopes of hills the soil is fertile, especially in the lower Exe valley, which has orchards and market gardens. The northern coast is very rugged, with cliffs 122–152 m/400–500 ft high; there are also rocky inlets, the largest of which is Bideford Bay. On the southern coast are the headlands Bolt Tail and Start Point, and the harbours Tor Bay and Plymouth Sound, one of the best harbours in Britain." It's well known for its sheep and dairy and beef cattle, cider and clotted cream and fishing.
The notion of a lost garden in Humphreys' novel is based on a garden the author's grandfather had discovered. Humphreys explains that her grandfather "found a lost garden on the English estate where he was living at the time. He worked with the garden: brought it back to its own fullness and, after his death, the estate was sold to a condo developer and the garden was lost again: this time forever."
For anyone who is a fan of Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel The Secret Garden, it's impossible not to be intrigued by the premise of a garden lost and then found. As it happens, another famous British garden was resurrected under similar circumstances: The Lost Gardens of Heligan.
A tiny room, buried under fallen masonry revealed this pencilled on the limestone walls: ""Don’t come here to sleep or slumber" with the names of those who worked there signed under the date - August 1914."
There are other similarities between Heligan and Mosel. For example, American troops used Heligan House as a base. When the derelict gardens were discovered, a major effort was made to restore the gardens.
The similarities between Heligan and Mosel were impossible to resist. On a trip to England in 2007, I visited Heligan (in the pouring rain) with my children. I have Helen Humphreys to thank for that visit.