And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles. ― Frances Hodgson Burnett
Hilary Kent has something Tom Laurence very much wants—his garden. But it’s not just any garden Tom’s after; it’s the centuries-old physic garden planted by a priest called Thaddeus who disappeared under mysterious circumstances, some four-hundred years before, that Tom’s most interested in because he’s reading Medieval History at Uni and plans to make the apothecary’s garden the foundation of his graduate thesis.
Hilary inherited the tower and its accompanying garden from an estranged cousin, moving from London to the quiet countryside that is the perfect accommodation for his preferred solitary life. Hilary is firmly ensconced in his golden years and aims to spend the rest of his days enjoying the seclusion his new home affords him, and that’s still his plan even though he’s given Tom permission to begin excavating Thaddeus’ original designs from the now overgrown disarray the garden has fallen into after years of neglect.
Tom is a young man who might be called nothing less than an old soul in the body of a confident and enthusiastic student of the history he’s about to unearth, a history that will uncover a mystery without any clues. His friendship with Hilary is one that blossoms and flourishes, and with care and nurturing affection, grows into a deep and abiding love in spite of the 4+ decades’ difference in their ages. But it’s not a love that is so easily cultivated, at least not on Hilary’s part, not by any means.
Hilary is of a generation that recalls very much what it was like to hide his attraction to other men, because he is of a generation that remembers a time when who he is was against the law. It takes some getting used to, this idea of living and loving openly the way Tom’s generation is striving to do, and it’s something he tries very hard to continue to foster in Tom while denying himself the right to do the same. Though, this time it’s not about his sexuality but about the conflict of falling in love with a man hypothetically young enough to be his grandson, an issue that Tom is blind to, not seeing their difference in age as an issue at all.
The Apothecary’s Garden is a gentle romance in which the conflict is internal for poor Hilary, who loves Tom so deeply but can’t seem to fathom it’s possible those affections might ever be returned. There is a forty-two year age difference between them, after all, so if that’s something that you’d have a difficult time with, I can’t say this is the book for you because it’s the crux of the conflict in their relationship for the entirety of the book.
While this novel was perhaps just a bit too sedate for my tastes, the drama in some instances a bit on the theatrical side to suit me, I can say without hesitation that Julie Bozza holds an obvious affection for her characters. Hilary was entirely sympathetic in his doubt and self-denial, acknowledging his love of a man he thinks he can never have, convicted in his belief that Tom could never see him through the eyes of anything other than a dear friend. The bond that grows between Tom and Hilary is genuine, making it easy to see how they could be kindred spirits, perhaps separated by generations but connected by their similarities.
There were some lovely metaphors in the story, illuminating the love that grew from the seeds of friendship for these two men, and the way in which a garden, much like that love, cannot survive until all the detritus that chokes the new and fragile blossoms of that love, which keeps it from thriving and growing into something lush and beautiful, has been removed to allow a new life to begin.
The Apothecary’s Garden is a book I’d recommend unreservedly if you’re looking for a story that leads you quietly along the path to its happy ending. Don’t read it if you’re expecting loads of angst and conflict, don’t read it if you’re expecting erotica, but do read it if you’re looking for an understated and touching romance.