By Sarah Addison Allen
Plants and dirt and the stories they tell.
I love plants. I love tending them. I love getting the back of my neck sunburned from being on my knees all day. I love getting dirt under my fingernails, and smelling its musty aroma as the brown stuff washes from my hands down the drain. A day spent in the sun, working the soil is a day seized in my book.
Claire Waverly loves plants too. A few steps from the back door of the large Victorian her family has always owned in Bascom, North Carolina is the garden she tends; the garden she loves; the source of her successful catering business. For her, plants equal magic. They’re her second language. Want to keep a secret? Add nasturtiums to your salads. Keep children thoughtful? Sugared pansies on the cake. Get rid of an unwanted neighbor? A snapdragon soufflé. She has a gift. All of the Waverly’s do. Claire likes to keep hers quietly to herself, living alone in her family’s old house, ignoring the children who occasionally try to get a peek over her tall picketed fence at that mysterious enchanted apple tree in the center of her garden.
But suddenly her plants begin to change, and so does her life. A new, interested neighbor moves in next door. Her fly-by-night sister returns with a daughter unexpectedly, and her elderly cousin keeps leaving unwanted gifts. What’s a girl who wants her heart locked up tight to do? Give in, of course. A good heroine always gives in, a little anyway.
If you’ve read or seen the movie Practical Magic, this all probably sounds vaguely familiar. Both are stories that revolve around the lives of two sisters, one mature beyond her years and one escaping from an abusive relationship, polar opposites in almost every way but for their magical gifts; a small, quirky town whom both loves and hates them; an elderly relative with all the answers, and, of course, an enchanted garden.
I guess the question is, did I mind the similarities? Not really. Practical Magic is darker and more serious, while Garden Spells is lighter and more fun. Like The Sugar Queen, I enjoyed the mixture of food and magical realism. Addison made the story her own by the end. Reading this made me want to hang out at a garden store all afternoon. Or better yet, plant some peas and spinach. I hear they increase patience for unruly children. Better plant them quick. 4 stars