Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Hilary Kent, a Londoner all his working life, retires to Wiltshire after an estranged cousin unexpectedly leaves him an inhabitable tower surrounded by an overgrown physic garden – and that’s when graduate student Tom Laurence suddenly erupts into his life, convincing him that together they can restore the ancient garden to its former glory. Tom’s cheerful friendship is the best thing that’s ever happened to Hilary and he’s perfectly content with that until, to his astonishment and confusion, it seems that Tom’s affection for him is beginning to grow into something more … something he feels he probably shouldn’t allow …
Publisher: Manifold Press
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 46-65
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Friends to Lovers, May/December, Age Difference
Word Count: 71000
Languages Available: English
There was a stone terrace of sorts just outside the back door, with steps against the wall leading down to the left. Plants that probably should have remained shrubs had grown tall here, right up against the tower’s feet, with gnarly branches looming aggressively towards the doorway, reaching even over Tom’s head. Hilary had only ever ventured out here once before, and had very soon retreated back inside.
Tom, however, seemed undaunted. In fact, he seemed positively cheerful. “Well, this won’t do, will it? I’m glad you said that about being ruthless, because this lot will have to go.”
Hilary managed to say something fervent about his undying gratitude.
“In the meantime, I’m going to see how far I can work my way through from the bottom of the steps,” he announced. “There might be a relatively open area in there.”READ MORE
“You’ll be careful, won’t you … ?” Though Hilary was at a loss to describe what he feared might happen. Perhaps he was imagining that Tom would get stuck as if in a briar patch, and Hilary wouldn’t be able to follow him in and bring him back out again.
“Of course I’ll be careful,” Tom reassured him with a grin. “I’ll start clearing a path, if it’s any use, but what I’ll definitely do is cut back some of those bushes right up against the paved area there. You should at least be able to see out!”
“Oh!” said Hilary, not knowing what he’d ever done to deserve this. It was true that the kitchen and living area at the back of the tower were rather dark rooms, even though they faced to the south; sometimes he didn’t even bother drawing the curtains in the morning. The idea of getting some more light into his home was wonderful. “Thank you, Tom.”
“Don’t mention it!” Another wink as the young man reached the bottom of the steps – and then with a twist and a wriggle, Tom disappeared into the dark foliage.
Hilary took a breath and held it, his heart picking up an extra beat in every moment that he couldn’t see or hear or somehow sense Tom’s presence.
“Interesting!” came a muffled exclamation at last.
Hilary relaxed a little. “What’s that? What have you found?”
“Think I can make a path through here –” There was a bit of determined rustling, and then a satisfied breath. It seemed that Tom had emerged on the other side. “Oh, Mr Kent! This is –”
“This is what?” he prompted after a moment, raising his voice a little.
“This is lovely. It’s just lovely! Look, I’m going to cut these shrubs back so you can get through.” Tom’s voice seemed to float around a little closer, as if he were circling round to near where Hilary waited on the terrace. “I think they’re mostly rhododendrons gone wild. Old Thaddeus wouldn’t have planted these … To be honest, we’ll probably need to get rid of them altogether, but for now I’ll cut them right back – severely. But it’s too early to make decisions that we can’t undo, you know?”
“It’s perfectly all right!” Hilary called in response. “Do whatever you think best.”
“All right! I’ll make sure to save the wood, too. We’ll be able to use it for other things.”
“Is there anything I can do … ?” he asked, feeling rather useless.
Tom’s voice drifted back from where he must have first emerged. “Cup o’ tea is gonna be very welcome, if you don’t mind!”
“Right.” And as industrious sawing noises began, Hilary headed back inside to put the kettle on.
By the time Tom reappeared to stand by the kitchen table, the tea was growing cool, but he refused to let Hilary make a fresh pot. Instead, Tom took the opportunity to drink down two cupfuls very quickly, and then said, “Come on, I’ve got something to show you.”
Hilary was perfectly happy to follow the young man out the door again, and down the back steps. Tom had cut back enough of the shrubs to form a man–sized tunnel into the garden.
“D’you see?” Tom said, pointing into where the branches were thickest. “You can cut away just about everything, except the primary branches. There’s usually two or three of them at the heart of the thing. You can cut them right down, too, without doing the plant any harm. Though it might take a year or two to flower properly again.”
“I don’t mind about that,” Hilary assured him.
“There’ll be plenty of foliage in the meantime. Careful where you step,” Tom said, reaching to take Hilary’s hand, and then backing away before him to help lead him through. Hilary had a sense of light around Tom’s tall lean silhouette – and then they emerged.
“Oh!” Hilary cried in surprise. The garden was wild and overgrown, of course, but there was something elementally beautiful about it, and there was a feeling of openness and space that he hadn’t expected at all. “Oh, Tom! Thank you.”
“Well, don’t thank me yet,” Tom said, watching him with a smile. “A lot of this is gonna have to go. All that ivy, for a start …”
Ivy covered almost everything in a vibrant dark green, through which an assortment of living and dead plants struggled. Further down towards the river, the ivy created a canopy across what seemed to be a double row of trees.
“It’s almost like a magical glade down there,” Hilary said.
“It is, isn’t it?”
“I hardly had the first idea … My bedroom window looks over the garden, but it’s the same thick glass as downstairs, almost opaque in places. I think it might be rusted shut, because I haven’t been able to open it at all.”
“We’ll both have plenty to discover, then. It’s probably good timing, too; I think we’re seeing it at its best. But the ivy’s just going to kill everything else, and eventually it will even destroy the garden walls if you let it go. You don’t want that, do you … ? Or do you?”
“No, I agree it has to go. But the trees …”
“They should be all right. I think they’re all oaks. Pretty sturdy, anyway, and they look okay from here. Once they’re left to their own devices, hopefully you’ll get the same kind of shade from their leaves as from the ivy. You’ll have a lovely walk down to the river, that’s all your own!”
“At the moment,” Hilary observed, “it looks like the walk would go on forever.” It must be some trickery caused by the greenery, but the large tunnel formed by the trees under the ivy seemed to continue on far beyond where he knew it must come to an end. “Can we walk down there now?”
Tom laughed happily at his eagerness. “Not yet. I don’t think it would be wise to yet. And you’d better be careful if you come out here exploring. There is – or was – an old water feature running down the middle there, with a pond up here near the tower. If it’s still there, it’s all hidden under debris now, and if you go tumbling into that, you might be in trouble. You’re pretty isolated out here, aren’t you?”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
“Apart from which, physic gardens always had a separate section for poisonous plants, the ones they grew for medicine. I have no idea where that would be, if it wasn’t all destroyed years ago, but any protective fencing or whatever will be pretty flimsy by now. You don’t want to go accidentally walking into all that either.”
Hilary had turned to look at his young friend. “You must promise me you’ll be careful, too, Tom. You won’t be reckless.”
“I promise,” the fellow easily agreed. “What I thought,” he continued blithely on, “was that I’d fetch you a chair from the kitchen, and you can sit out here and watch while I cut back some more of those rhododendrons. Then at least you’ll be able to look out over the garden from your back door.”
“We’ll leave the rest for now – see how they’re planted all along the foot of the tower? If you want to keep them, we can prune them properly later.”
“You’re very good to me,” Hilary said.
“Oh, but I have ulterior motives,” Tom reminded him with another wink.COLLAPSE
Sirius on Reviews by Jessewave wrote:
I can only hope that ‘once upon a time’ the story between Hilary and Tom actually took place because this slowly formed friendship that then unfolds into love … It’s just a love, that if it existed, made the world a little better of a place. […] This was my first book by Julie Bozza so I can’t compare this work to any of her others, and I don’t want to compare it to any other author’s work because that’s like comparing apples and oranges (cliché, I know, but it’s true). All I know is that if her other work is anything like ‘The Apothecary’s Garden’, I’ll give it a go.
Ulysses Dietz on Goodreads wrote:
Julie Bozza is a writer whose writing I love and whose work I also respect very much if for nothing else than for the fact that she tries to write about so many different things in her stories. … I really loved both guys in this book. Hilary was such a sweetheart and it was really a sweet and gentle read overall. Almost nothing happens in this book besides them meeting, restoring a garden together and slowly, so very slowly, moving towards each other. The conflict is about Hilary worrying over him being so much older than Tom. You really have to like slow moving books if you want to enjoy this one, where the two characters are figuring out their relationship and whether they would have one. Tom was an old soul, who was also smart, resilient and so very determined to get what he wants, or should I say whom he wants. But he was also a bit naïve and sometimes too persistent. … I thought that the guys had chemistry together and while I was reading the book, I even managed to almost forget about their age difference … I still highly recommend the book though if you are okay with a huge age difference between the protagonists.
Il faut cultiver notre jardin. This is the theme of this book. We must take care of our own garden. This is from Voltaire's "Candide," which I read as a French major in college. And what does it mean - why has it stuck to me so strongly for 40 years? Because it is nothing less than the truth. More on this below...
I loved this book. You must understand, I am Hilary Kent. Well, almost. Actually, I'm only 58, my big brother is Hilary Kent. But straight. And married. With kids. Sigh. OK, the POINT is, that my greatest sadness in the m/m genre world is the absolute rule that no one over 40 is allowed to be in love, or sexy. Once you're over 50, you're a pathetic old queer with no life and no value to a story except to be a joke or a victim. (Sorry, ladies, I blame you for this.)
So, to repeat, I loved this book.
Such a British book, just as Hilary is such a British man. I know plenty of American gay men his age, and none of them have that reticent, self-abnegating, gentle spirit that makes Hilary someone I loved instantly. And, in my case, identified with from the first page. But this also makes him very sad, to me.
Hilary, at 65, was 21 when anti-sodomy laws were finally repealed in England in 1967. As a result, he has learned to live a gay life of such perfect discretion that he has given up on any idea of real happiness - he has settled, instead, for contentment. Alone his whole life, now retired to a little medieval tower house he inherited from a crackpot old cousin he didn't even know, he is content. But, like his crazy recluse cousin, Hilary has not cultivated his garden. He knows nothing about his garden or about the man who created it. Il n'a pas cultivé son jardin. He has not really lived his life. Sad, that.
Into this quiet, controlled life pops Tom, twenty-three, a graduate student in medieval archaeology at the local uni. He is studying gardens, and in particular Hilary's Kent's garden - overgrown after half a century of neglect. Apparently, a possibly gay Anglican priest name Thaddeus of Kent planted the garden as a medicinal laboratory 400 years earlier. And Tom is all over it.
And Tom is cute. And gay. And very out. He has lovely hands. (shiver) Hilary notices.
Absolutely nothing of consequence happens in this book. But, if you're like me, you are caught up from the first page, because you, too, fall in love with Tom. But what could possibly happen between a sixty-five-year-old pensioner and a grad student 42 years younger? Read it and find out. If this was the last m/m book I ever read, I would die happy.
Eighth place in the Best Gay Contemporary Romance (William Neale Award) category in the 2013 Rainbow Awards.