The Illegal Gardener

Wendy Ogden | Monday, 29th July 2013
Set in Greece, a beautiful friendship is born from a love of gardening. For lovers of fiction and gardening.
Author: Sara Alexi
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Publication year: 2012
RRP: £6.92

If you like growing and reading it's not easy to find green stories. One online search offered me The Constant Gardener as top choice – I believe this is a spy story. I've found that while most characters in all fiction tend to live somewhere, even with outdoor space, and have to exist on something (let's leave the vampires out of this one) we rarely see them pick up a trowel or harvest tomatoes.

I wasn't surprised but was a little disappointed when Maddy Harland told me that fiction is another world from her work at Permanent Publications. I must confess to a vested interest, having written a contemporary novel, where characters grow literally as well as metaphorically, in Austerity Britain (on Sea.) It was through reading fiction that I grew up always looking for the gate to a secret garden. It was watching The Good Life on TV, arguably the purest showing over telling, that inspired me to start growing my own. Viewers of the series needed a sense of humour, not just for the slapstick and snobbery, but about the fact Tom and Barbara Good didn't seem to have rent or mortgage to pay. Still, their lifestyle principles apply more than ever now considering food and energy prices.

I was very excited to find The Illegal Gardener by Sara Alexi nudging and topping various Amazon book charts. I checked out the opening sample and quickly ordered a copy. The novel, first in her 'Greek Village Series,' is about a British woman, called Juliet, who moves to Greece following divorce, and when her children have left home. She buys a dilapidated cottage and earns her living as a translator online. Juliet is no Shirley Valentine.

The story is about her employment of another new arrival to Greece, a man who is an illegal immigrant from Pakistan. While they are both newcomers their status and welfare are so very different. The garden is their workplace but symbolic of restoration and healing. Their personal conflicts are worlds apart but the garden becomes a bridge between them. It isn't all about soaking up the sun and saving the vines. Aaman, while he seeks any casual work that will sustain him, is a grower at heart and is no drifter. He has a specific and worthwhile goal and faces major challenges that create the page-turning quality. While this isn't a romance their friendship reminded me of the intensity of the relationship in Remains Of The Day.

This is a Greek story, but definitely green, that explores survival and cultural diversity. Empowering to me is the way the author, who is dyslexic, employed her own editors and designers to produce an acceptable quality book. As so many self published works are questioned on presentation, I should mention that I noticed one typo and only struggled over construction of one sentence.

Would this book have been better if traditionally published? Marginally, yes. I am neither an editor, nor publisher, but as a writer I tend to be a fairly harsh critic. I was predisposed to liking this book but overall thought it was an original story, worth telling, and was very well told. I recommend The Illegal Gardener to readers and publishers. This title should be piled high in traditional bookshops. 

Wendy Ogden writes a blog called On The Edge, all about writing, gardening, scenery and living by the sea.

She has also writen:

Using a Microclimate: Plants On A Duck House Roof

How To Remove Tree Stumps Without Chemicals Or Tools