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The French Gardener

The French Gardener

A Novel

  • reading group guide
A neglected garden. A cottage that holds a secret. A mysterious and handsome Frenchman. Prepare to be “spellbound by the sheer charm” (Daily Express, UK) of Santa Montefiore’s tender and powerful novel about passion, loss, and the healing power of love.

It begins as Miranda and David Claybourne move into a country house with a once-beautiful garden. But reality turns out to be very different from their dream. Soon the latent unhappiness in the family begins to come to the surface, isolating each family member in a bubble of resentment and loneliness.

Then an enigmatic Frenchman arrives on their doorstep. With the wisdom of nature, he slowly begins to heal the past and the present. But who is he? When Miranda reads about his past in a diary she finds in the cottage by the garden, the whole family learns that a garden, like love itself, can restore the human spirit, not just season after season, but generation after generation.

Wise and winsome, poignant and powerfully moving, The French Gardener is a contemporary story told with an old-fashioned sensibility steeped in the importance of family and the magical power of love.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 432 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416543749 | 
  • June 2009
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The French Gardener includes discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Questions for Discussion

1. Gus seems to act out violently as a result of his parents’ inattentiveness. Do you think his sins are ultimately forgivable, or should he be held responsible to some degree?

2. At first, “the word ‘community’ made [Miranda’s] stomach churn” (page 20). By the end of the year, she has embraced the country and left London behind. What do you think accounts for Miranda’s change in attitude about Hartington? How do her new relationships compare to her old ones?

3. Infidelity played a part in the Lightly marriage and in the Claybourne marriage. One affair was revealed, while the other remained secret. What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks of each situation? How can keeping an affair a secret protect a marriage? How can having everything out in the open allow a relationship to grow and mend?

4. Montefiore describes the setting of the novel beautifully. Nearly every chapter comes alive with details of the characters’ surroundings. Which images are most memorable for you? Can see more

Articles About This Book


Posted on Off the Shelf

Posted by Suzanne Donahue

In the hallway I walk down every day to and from my office there is a bookshelf where people put copies of books they don’t need. There are shelves like that on every floor in the building and when visiting other departments you can sometimes find...

About the Author

Santa Montefiore
Photograph by Elaine Fattal

Santa Montefiore

Born in England in 1970, Santa Montefiore grew up in Hampshire. She is married to historian Simon Sebag Montefiore. They live with their two children, Lily and Sasha, in London. Visit her at


Author Revealed

Santa Montefiore
Q. how did you come to write The French Gardener?

A. I was lazing on the lawn in the summer, thinking about my next book, when I saw my parents' gardener, Simon, mowing the grass on the tractor (my parents live on a farm in Hampshire, UK, and have an enormous garden!) on the back and sides were my two children aged 5 and 7 and their four small cousins. Simon was blithely mowing with these little monkeys laughing and squeaking around him, probably making it harder for him to work, but he didn't seem to mind. I then thought of how much fun they all have in the countryside, planting vegetables and trees, picking apples and blackberries in the autumn, finding small creatures to nurture, rescuing the odd bird fallen out of his nest, building camps and running around in freedom. They rarely watch tv and certainly don't have time for computer games when there's so much to do in the garden! My parents are busy people. My father is either on a tractor or playing tennis, rackets, squash, golf! I noticed too that the garden brought them together. Simon is a recent addition to the farm. My parents didn't hire a new gardener when Peter, the old gardener they'd had for 20 years retired and then died, preferring to save pennies and do the gardening themselves, an enormous task as the grounds are so big. They mowed over the vegetable garden and cut things back to make it more manageable. Then, by chance, or fate, Simon appeared wanting to rent a cottage. When he said he was a gardener my parents took him on a few days a week. They began planting vegetables again, sweet peas, created new borders - it's a hive of activity now, and has brought them closer together as they spend time doing what they love, together. This, combined with my children's love for the countryside, being essentially London children, gave me the idea for the French Gardener. I then wove Jean-Paul and Ava out of my imagination, but the gardens are based on Prince Charles's gardens at Highgrove.

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