Charming (def.): pleasant, endearing, wonderful, amusing, satisfying, entertaining
Charming is a wildly overused word, but in this case it is totally appropriate in describing Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin. This book reminded me strongly of the novels of Maeve Binchey and Rosamunde Pilcher, who happens to be one of the author’s favorite writers.
Hannah Winchester is the wife of the Reverend Martin Winchester, Vicar of St. John the Baptist Anglican church in the Cotswald village of Burford, England. For the last several years, her marriage has been problematic, her husband cool, irascible and unengaged. His temperament has extended to his pastorship and his friendship with the Bishop, an old Cambridge friend. When the Bishop insists that Martin take a sabbatical at St. George’s College in Jerusalem during the summer, Martin goes with great reluctance. Hannah hopes the summer apart will allow her to determine the direction in which she would like to grow, reinvigorate her husband’s life and rekindle their love for each other.
Hannah’s passion is gardening and when the story begins, she is in the middle of the redesign and expansion of the vicarage garden. The original garden was well-known and was the pride of the previous vicar, Robert Myers, who led the church for 30 years. Hannah acquires an intern for the summer, Henry Bernard, who works at the famous Kew Gardens and ostensibly comes to Burford to help Hannah and to study English clergy-gardeners and the role of gardens in their spirituality. His real reason for applying for Hannah’s position is a mystery weaving through the book. During the summer, Hannah’s garden expands and blooms, along with her creativity in its usage and goals for herself. The reader meets a cast of village characters that delight and enthrall with their talents, humor, occasional pettiness, and gossip. Not all of them are happy with what Hannah is doing with the Garden and as the months pass, the lives of the villagers entwine with Hannah’s in surprising ways. Hannah’s own daughter is trapped in an unhappy marriage of her own. How can Hannah help her? Will the new garden be accepted by the village? Will Hannah’s plans for it come to fruition? Will Martin accept the changes she has made to herself, the garden and the vicarage? And most of all, can Martin win back Hannah’s heart?
The author’s knowledge of gardening is a strong thread through her novel, and I learned a great deal about it as a result. There is also a spirituality to the telling, which is never overwhelming but entirely germane to the story of a vicar’s wife.
I enthusiastically recommend this book – it is worthy of Oprah’s Book Club.