*This review first appeared in The Budget’s Sept. 20, 2017, Local Edition.
By Pat Edgar
Many of the books I chose to read recently were labeled as “great beach reads.” But I didn’t go to the beach, and I’m betting that many of you didn’t either. So what else says summer? One answer to that question is gardening. And a delightful read about that subject is “An Amish Garden.”
In this collection of four novellas, readers will find some of their favorite authors’ fiction, each delivering a unique story featuring a garden. Characters and locales change, but the hope and new beginnings gardens promise are the central themes throughout.
The first offering is “Rooted in Love” by Beth Wiseman. It takes place in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and features 21-year-old main character Rosemary Lantz.
Rosemary’s mother died four years before the story opens, and she has assumed the roles of housekeeper and caretaker for her father and three younger brothers.
This summer, she plans to restore her mother’s garden both as a way to feed her family and honor her mother’s memory. The only problem is that Rosemary paid very little attention to her mother’s gardening skills, preferring to tackle indoor chores instead.
Enter neighbor Saul Petersheim who has carried a torch for Rosemary since she was 16 years old. They dated for three months, then, “Rosie” mysteriously ended their relationship. She has discouraged his attempts at courting ever since but finds it necessary to accept Saul’s help when her father is injured.
Beth Wiseman is a best-selling writer of Amish fiction. She has sold well over 1.5 million copies of her books and has received numerous awards for her inspirational fiction.
“Flowers for Rachael” by Kathleen Fuller is the second story in the collection. It takes place in Middlefield, Ohio, in early June.
Rachael Bontrager, age 21, came from Indiana a year ago to care for her paternal grandfather, Eli, who is recovering from a stroke. Eli’s wife died five years ago, and until the stroke, he was able to take care of himself.
Despite his belief that he has recuperated enough to live independently now, Rachael knows that he still needs her. Grandfather and granddaughter battle about the limits of Eli’s exercise and the healthy diet she insists he eats. He considers her menus simple variations on “rabbit food” and yells that he’ll eat his applesauce “with a side of peach cobbler.”
Besides the daily care of her grandfather, Rachael is also tending to the garden and building her own greenhouse out of scraps she finds in the garage. Of course, their Amish community helps with medical expenses but with Eli unable to work, Rachael is intent on growing more of their food.
It is not long after Rachael arrives that she catches the eye of Gideon Byler. Once shy and awkward, Gideon has grown into a tall and strong 25-year-old. He compares Rachael’s eyes to the beach glass he sees on the shores of Lake Erie when he goes fishing but is too timid to ask Rachael to one of the singings in their district.
Even though his sister, Hannah Lynn, teases him about his crush, he is unwilling to pursue Rachael because of the rejection he received from Julie Keim when he was 19. Gideon feels that Rachael is the most capable woman he knows and admires her refusal to complain about everything that she has to do. Even if he can’t court her, he vows to help her with the outside work.
Author Kathleen Fuller is another prolific and popular writer of Amish fiction often featuring Middlefield, Ohio, in her books.
Tricia Goyer’s “Seeds of Love” is the shortest of the four novellas and probably my favorite. It features the community of Kootenai, Mon-tana, and also incorporates The Budget newspaper into the story.
Main character Eli Plank has just arrived in the logging community and is living in one of the bachelor cabins there. He has been traveling for a while and includes his adventures in his Budget entries, signed by the Bachelor Scribe.
Next door is another newcomer. Sadie has come to live with her Uncle Milton and his family. Recently, she lost her parents in a buggy accident, and her older siblings, all married, sold the family homestead. Sadie thinks a change of scenery will help her heal from the grief she feels.
Two of the few things she brings from home are a package of heirloom tomato seeds passed down from her great-great-grandmother and her mother’s gardening journal. Remembering the old Amish proverb “A garden is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow,” Sadie works hard in the cold climate to grow plants from her precious seeds and start anew.
Goyer is a best-selling author of 35 books. She is best known for her “Seven Brides for Seven Bachelors” series.
The final offering in this collection is “Where Healing Blooms” by Vanetta Chapman. The setting of the tale is Shipshewana, Indiana, in mid-May.
Emma Hochstetler and her mother-in-law, both widows, live together and maintain a garden that is both beyond their needs and strength. If not for 84-year-old Mary Ann, Emma would have cut back on the gardening years ago. But Mary Ann loves the garden and feels that God is directing their efforts.
Again, The Budget is mentioned in this novella. The Hochstetlers’ neighbor, Danny, has just returned from years away during which he wrote for the familiar newspaper as well as other publications. It is rumored that he has come home to write a book and will sell his deceased parents’ property and move on when that task is done.
Also involved in the story are a young man who seeks refuge in Emma’s barn and an abused woman in the community. How these elements come together to create a fascinating and heart-warming plot.
Vanetta Chapman was a teacher for 15 years before she turned to writing full time. She has won numerous awards for her works.