IDEAS BEHIND THE BOOK
Sea voyage and a narrow cobbled lane
The Forgotten Garden was born out of two images that wouldn’t leave me alone. My husband’s family migrated from Sweden to Australia in the early years of the twentieth century and my mother-in-law, who is a keen family historian, often told us stories of their sea journey. There were seven children in the family and they were left to their own devices for the most part because their mother was busy below deck with her infant son. As the ship crossed the equator one of the four-year-old twins died from sunstroke.
I couldn’t get this story out of my mind – the beautiful Swedish children on a sunny deck, white cotton dresses and long blonde hair – and in my imagination the focus narrowed so that I saw only the little girl twirling along the deck. Somehow the deck became a wharf, and the little girl obtained a white suitcase, which she was sitting on, all alone as night began to fall.
Who was she? Why was she alone? And what would happen to her if no one came looking?
The second image that presented itself when I was dreaming up The Forgotten Garden, was of a woman hurrying along a narrow cobbled lane. I knew it was London in the early twentieth century; I could see only the hem of her long skirt, but I could hear it rustling and her heels clipping, as she hurried along the road.
Who was she? Where was she going? Why was she in such a hurry?
I knew that when I figured out the answers to these questions, I’d be able to write the stories to which the two characters belonged. It was a great surprise though, when I finally worked out who they were and what they were doing, to also realise that they belonged together in the same book.
Deeply personal inspiration
When my grandmother turned twenty-one, her beloved father told her that she wasn’t his biological child. I don’t know whether he could have imagined the impact that this news would have, and I certainly never spoke directly with Nana about it, but it was a life-changing event for her, discovering that she wasn’t who she had thought she was. For a long time, Nana told nobody else, keeping the truth about her parentage a secret from her friends and sisters until she was in her eighties and decided, finally, to tell her three daughters. In The Forgotten Garden, Nell experiences a similar event. In Nell’s case, however, discovering that she was a foundling shatters her identity. She withdraws from her family and friends, breaks off her engagement, and spends the rest of her life on a quest to discover her true identity.
Finding the perfect location
It took me a while to find an English location for The Forgotten Garden: I knew it had to be coastal and I wanted a history of smuggling because it fed into the overarching fairy-tale feel that I was hoping to create. I auditioned a number of stretches of English coastline before coming, by chance, across mention of a place called The Lost Gardens of Heligan. It turned out that Heligan was a grand country estate in Cornwall, owned for many centuries by an aristocratic family called the Tremaynes. Along with the house and farms, Heligan was also home to the most glorious formal gardens. Generations of green thumbs had scoured the globe bringing back samples of the world’s varied vegetation, and a team of thirteen gardeners were in charge of maintaining the Antipodean garden, the Italian garden, and the African garden, to name but a few. In 1914, however, when World War I broke out, the entire garden staff enlisted and none returned. The Tremayne family moved away, the garden grew over, and people forgot what had once been. It wasn’t until late in the twentieth century that a garden archaeologist, who had grown up nearby, returned home and rediscovered the entrance to Heligan. With a BBC film crew recording the project, the garden was restored and it is now open to the public. The idea of a once-glorious, much-loved garden that time had forgotten was too irresistible for me to leave alone. My story had not only found its Cornish location, it had also acquired a forgotten garden (and a new title!).
Along with having the pleasure of bringing Cornwall to life, I used my home location for the first time in the forgotten garden. Literally my home location. Nell’s little timber worker’s cottage in the hills of Paddington is the house I lived in with my family while I was writing the book, and the Antique Centre, where Nell and Cassandra have their stall, is a real place. It was such a pleasure weaving a location I’m so familiar with, and for which I bear such great fondness, into my story.
DID YOU KNOW?
Kate lived in Nell’s house, on the steep slopes of Paddington, Queensland, whilst she was writing The Forgotten Garden, and used to spend a lot of time exploring the Antique Centre in between scenes.