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Gardening, Genealogy and a Ghost That Sings

Updated on February 22, 2012

If gardening, ghosts, or genealogy doesn't excite you, then you won't like Nora Roberts' In The Garden trilogy. But if you do like puttering in your garden or digging up the dirt in a family tree (or both), then this is a 3-part story you won't be able to put down until the singing ghost of Harper House is finally put to rest.

Of course, you could read one and not the other two...or two but not the third. But why deprive yourself of any part of one of Nora's best tales?

I didn't. I read all three books twice in one week. Big whoop, you say. It is a big whoop because I don't read books more than once. Ever. Until now.

But first a confession...

Once upon a time...

Oops.  Let's try that again.

Years ago, I was an avid Nora Roberts fan. For about a year. Then I stopped reading her books. Avoided them actually. Partly from frustration that I couldn't always find all three of the books for whichever trilogy I was currently hooked on. But mostly because the trilogies had become predictable.

The formula went like this:

  • Start with a picturesque locale, say a small village in Ireland.
  • Add three strong women of various ages, lifestyles and backgrounds.
  • Make one a blonde, one a brunette, and one a redhead.
  • Be sure one has never been in love but wants to be. Or not.
  • Make sure the other two have loved or been loved, but for one reason or another swear to never repeat the experience.
  • Throw in three pieces of eye candy of the male variety who aren't looking for romance either. Or think they aren't.
  • Stir vigorously.

Ho hum. Zzzzzzzz.

Blue dahlia
Blue dahlia

The Heroines

Rosalind "Roz" Harper, 46. Current lineal owner of Harper House, a mansion near Memphis that was the pride of her great-grandfather Reginald Harper, Sr. Married 1) John Ashby, her soulmate who died young, leaving her with three young sons, now grown. Briefly married 2) Bryce Clerk, professional jerk. Took back her maiden name after divorcing Jerk...uh, Clerk. Has no desire to ever marry again. Owns a thriving garden center and nursery located on the other side of the estate.

Stella Rothchild, 33, widow of Kevin who died in a plane crash two years earlier, leaving her in their "pretty house" in Michigan with two small sons, Gavin and Luke, a dog named Parker, and no idea what to do with the rest of her life. Has a degree in nursery management; moved back to Memphis so the boys can be near her father and stepmother. Has no desire to marry again until the boys are grown. Neat freak and organizer extrordinaire. Exactly the sort of person Roz is looking for to manage the day-to-day operations of "In The Garden".

Hayley Phillips, 24, a distant cousin of John Ashby's from Little Rock. Single. Arrives at Harper House six months pregnant to ask Roz for a job, which she gets, and much, much more. The baby, Lily, will be her #1 priority.

The Eye Candy

David Wentworth, Roz's sons' childhood playmate who spent so much time at Harper House that he was called "the fourth son". Now the HH butler and resident gourmet cook. Has no desire to marry - ever.

Logan Kitridge, brilliant landscape designer Roz hired away from a competitor. Briefly married to a local debutante who dragged him off to New York City. Friendly divorce, no children. His pickup truck is his office. Keeps track of the plants and trees he uses on landscaping jobs on slips of paper he tucks in the visor.

Harper Ashby, Roz's eldest. Lives in the carriage house behind the main house. Shares his mother's love of gardening and preserving Harper House for future generations. Spends his days in the propagation shed developing new hybrids while listening to rock music on headphones. Single. Hasn't found the right girl yet.

Dr. Mitchell "Mitch" Carnegie, former professor who now pens biographies. Divorced. Only son is a college basketball star recently signed by the Boston Celtics. Highly respected genealogist whom Roz hires to identify the "Harper Bride", the ghost who's been singing to children at Harper House as long as anyone can remember.

Years later...

A couple of months ago I was in the 5-for-$1 corner of the public library's used book shop. I'd already chosen four titles that looked interesting, but to get the sale price, I had to pick a fifth. Blue Dahlia's bright blue cover caught my eye before I noticed it was a Nora Roberts...and Book One of a trilogy.

"Oh, whatever," I muttered as I tossed it into the basket...and promptly forgot about it until the other day when there was nothing else to read.

"Oh, whatever," I muttered as I turned to the first page.

Remember, I knew The Formula and was only reading Blue Dahlia for lack of anything else.

No way would I be dragged back into NR Land. Nosirree.... Not a chance.... The minute the library opened in the morning, I'd be at the used book shop to get books I really wanted to read.

I might even use my nifty library card to check out new books. Either way, none by Ms. Roberts.

Or so I vowed...

Back to Page One.

August, 1892: A 20-year-old Memphis beauty has just found out that the unthinkable has happened. She's pregnant by the rich married lover who installed her in a pretty little house, one of his empty rentals. Instead of demanding she "take measures", he showers her with jewels, new gowns, and more servants. Life is good.

On to Chapter 2...

January, 2004: Widow Stella Rothchild arrives at Harper House, hoping Roz Harper will hire her to manage "In The Garden", the Harper family's nursery and landscaping business. Not only does she get the job, Roz installs her, her sons and their dog in one wing of the house. Says it'll be nice having children in the house again. Life is verrry good.

That is, until Stella finds the ghost of the Harper Bride between the boys' beds, singing a lullaby. "Oh, she never hurts anyone," she's told. "Only sings the one song to babies and small children."

Chapter 6 already!

How did that happen??

February, 2004: Hayley Phillips, John Ashby's distant cousin, arrives, scared, single and pregnant.

All three major female characters have been introduced and it's only chapter six. What's going on??

Forget "the Formula". Roz has black hair, Stella red (usually frizzy), and Hayley "oak dark brown". Not a blonde in the bunch. I think Stella is the heroine du jour, but Roz and Hayley are getting a good chunk of the story line too.

Boy, am I confused.

If shaking things up was meant to keep jaded readers like myself turning those pages, it's working.

That and the gardening tips tucked between the names of the hundreds of flowers, plants, and trees in ITG's inventory. Only the Bard of Ely weaves botanical names into a story better than NR does here. (An index would be nice.)

Clues to the Harper Bride's identity and how she came to be "stuck" at Harper House are sprinkled through the three volumes of In The Garden.

  1. Blue Dahlia: Stella's book
  2. Black Rose: Roz's book
  3. Red Lily: Hayley's book

Plus I have friends who are a lot like the classy, foxy Roz. Very much so.

Roz never forgets she's from one of Memphis's oldest families. But thatfact doesn't define (or limit) who she is. Despite a closet full ofdesigner clothes and at least one pair of Jimmy Choos, her preferredoutfit is a pair of raggedy khaki pants, ancient sweatshirt, and sturdyboots. She loves having dirt under her nails. Gardening is her passion, and In The Garden allows her to share that passion with its customers.

As for the Eye Candy, bon apetit! They're all delicious in their own way, but David Wentworth is my favorite.

So what finally sent me running to the library to get books 2 and 3?

Well, the Harper Bride had become mean and spiteful. Roz had hired Mitch Carnegie several chapters before the end, but her identity was not discovered in Blue Dahlia.

Plus my passion being genealogy, I was curious to see how a fictitious but "highly respected" family historian would trace her. I have to tip my hat to Ms. Roberts on that one. I only spotted one misstep in Dr. Carnegie's research.

Worse, much as I hated to admit it, I was absolutely and totally enchanted by Harper House, In The Garden, and everyone connected with them, even the Harper Bride.

If you aren't already, I hope you'll be enchanted too.


Submit a Comment
  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    8 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    Thank you, Peg! "In the Garden" is definitely one of Roberts' best trilogies, if not THE best! The combination of gardening and resident ghost, by itself, makes for a great story, but bringing an expert in family history research into the mix gives it the extra "oomph" that makes it a true 3-volume page-turner. ;D

  • PegCole17 profile image

    Peg Cole 

    8 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

    You really do write an interesting book review, interjecting a bit of your reading tastes and personality into it. I'm definitely going to give Nora Roberts a shot after reading this write up.

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    I will be re-reading the Garden Trilogy as a counterpoint to impossibly-perfect Christmas homilies on TV between commercials to buy, buy, buy! ;D

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    moonlake, if your daughter does have the Garden Trilogy, be sure to make her promise NOT to tell you what happens to the ghost at the end of the 3rd book! ;D

  • moonlake profile image


    9 years ago from America

    Love Nora Roberts but have gotten away from reading to much tv and working on genealogy. I use to always have a book in my hand.

    I also love genealogy, gardening and ghost.

    My daughter bought me a nook for my birthday so I really do have to get back to reading.

    Enjoyed your hub will have to find these books. My daughter very likely has them.

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    10 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    Nell, I have no doubt the "In The Garden" trilogy will become a favorite read!

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    10 years ago from England

    Hi, this sounds really interesting, I am always on the lookout for a new author, I will certainly check this out, thanks nell

  • De Greek profile image

    De Greek 

    10 years ago from UK

    "just found out that the unthinkable" --- Now you see, Nora would have lost a client in me right there. Why the surprise? We simple peasants like our stories to have surprises in them throughout.. :-)

  • GmaGoldie profile image

    Kelly Kline Burnett 

    11 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

    You write beautifully! I am enchanted! Your Nora Roberts sounds so much like my childhood Nancy Drew - formula and fun but captivating - thank you for sharing!

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    "Eleanor Robertson" sounds like the title of a Beatles song, so I'm glad she chose "Nora Roberts" for a pen name instead!

    I've read a few J.D. Robbs - can't say that I liked or disliked them, simply like the N.R.s better. (Not useless pieces of information at all! Thanks!)

  • profile image

    Duchess OBlunt 

    11 years ago

    JamaGenee Loved this hub, but I am happy I read the series before I read the hub. I love stories that are different.

    P.S. If you like Nora Roberts but don't like the predictable in her usual work, try reading some of her work under the pen name of J. D. Robb where she writes futuristic mysteries

    P.S.S. Nora Roberts is also a pen name - her real name is Eleanor Marie Robertson.

    (aren't you happy with these useless pieces of information?)

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 

    11 years ago from East Coast, United States

    Well, I don't have to read it now, you already told me the whole story! :)

  • Updownside profile image


    11 years ago from Southern California Coastal

    Your hubs are so detailed I just can't seem to find enough time to finish them!

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    AE, I have to warn you that the first book, Blue Dahlia, won't grab you until about the midway point. After that, you won't be able to put it down. Enjoy!

  • AEvans profile image


    11 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

    You just sold me on that trilogy now I will have to call my friend who is an avid Nora Roberts fanatic and ask her if she has the set, it does sound very exciting. :)

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    Candy, I doubt I'll ever be "done" with my copies of IGT. They're written in such a way that one can open them to any page and be enthralled for only a few minutes or for hours. Sorry! ;D

  • Candie V profile image

    Candie V 

    11 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

    I'm finally getting a chance to catch up on hubs.. Locking myself in helps loads!! I have 1 NR book, Time and Time Again. 2 sisters 2 brothers.. 2 books in 1, 1 pair in each book. easy schmeezy, not the regular formula either, no red heads. Good sex scenes..when I really need one.. sigh.. Now I have to remember to write this one down and hunt for it, or can I borrow yours if you're done with it??

  • profile image


    11 years ago

    If she can tell a story as good as you JamaGenee, I am sure I will enjoy the books. I will let you know what I thought after I finish all three. :-) By the way, If I enjoy them I noticed that I can purchase them for a really great price on your hub. I will be back :-)

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    You're most welcome, Whikat!  Let me know what you think.

  • profile image


    11 years ago

    I enjoyed reading your review. I have not read any Nora Roberts, but with such a great review from a trusted source as yourself. I will most definitely check it out when I go to the library. Thanks for the review.

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    BC, probably a good thing this particular redhead laid her big blue eyes on that other bloke while you were off playing footsies with the Cabin Girl. ;D  

    Thanks, Peggy! I'll see if I can come up with a review of books two and three that won't give away the ending.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    11 years ago from Houston, Texas

    Why not give us the reviews for book two and three? Teresa and I would like that since you've given us such a good review of this first one.

  • profile image


    11 years ago

    I like anything that has a redhead throwen in : )

  • Cris A profile image

    Cris A 

    11 years ago from Manila, Philippines

    I've never read a Nora Roberts book either. But I think I'm content with your witty storytelling. I'll wait for book two :D

  • ajcor profile image


    11 years ago from NSW. Australia

    Really enjoyed your book review JamaGenee - I too used to read Nora R. but I am no longer the love struck young thing and over the years have discovered that murder and mayhem are my preferred choice in reading material - at the moment I am working my way through Sue Grafton alphabetical murder series but I am also a fan of James Patterson, Patricia Cornwall, Lynda laPlante, PD James etc., .... nothing like a chilling plot and jolly good murder  I say....cheers

  • Profmaggy profile image


    11 years ago from Boston MA


    You have a wonderful sense of humor and looking at life.

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    Why, thank you, JadedPoet.  A neighbor and I used to trade and devour romance novels too.  Part of growing up, I think. ;}

    I doubt I'll ever re-join the NR fan club, but this one trilogy really grabbed me.

  • JadedPoet profile image


    11 years ago from Chillicothe MO

    I remember Nora Roberts and her work with Harlequin Romances, back in the days before I became so jaded and cynical about romance. My neignbor and I used to read those formula romances by the dozen. I have since tried to read Ms. Roberts, and found I am just not a fan of hers anymore. I'm really not a fan of romance, in general, anymore. Give me horror, thriller, suspense or action. (I guess they are easier to believe in). You did, however, post a wonderfully readable, enjoyable hub.

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    Kscharles, I'm thrilled to have piqued your interest in the IGT trilogy! Might take your mind off whatever ails you. ;D

    tdarby, most best-selling authors use some sort of formula, but you usually don't notice it unless they write the same type of story over and over.  Or if they several levels of sub-plots going. Tom Clancy's books are a good example of that one.

  • tdarby profile image


    11 years ago

    I love the formula. I have a few authors I am going to write out their "formula". Thanks for the good read.

  • profile image


    11 years ago

    I've never been a reader of Nora Roberts but after your review, JamaGenee, you BET I'll read her trilogy! Your review and recommendation piqued my interest!

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    Elena, I'm always happy to give you a good laugh on what I know is a hectic day! But I'm sure NR was aware readers figured out the formula and that's why she changed it. Have a safe trip!

  • Elena. profile image


    11 years ago from Madrid

    Jama, I wish Ms Roberts would take a gander at your formula recipe, I'm sure she'd do a double take :-) It made me laugh big time! Now, you write a mean review -- I know, not an original comment, I'm not the first to say, but it bears being said again! I read NR years ago, nothing in a good while, not sure I'll go for it, but I certainly know where to start if I feel the inclination.

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    Hello, LAmatadora! As I said, I don't re-read books, but this was the exception. If you're at all interested in the subjects in the lead paragraph, you'll probably enjoy this story. Thatnks for dropping in.

  • profile image


    11 years ago

    I am not an avid novel reader but you have certainly made me interested in the stories. I read a few great books years ago which I will never forget and they truly stayed with me all these years. To find a great story that hooks you in, for me is very hard. This sounds good!

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    LM, thanks, and yes it *is* still my turn, but I'm working on that. ;} No, the top photo isn't one of mine, altho it could have if I'd had my camera the other day...there are some super-green thumbs in my neighborhood.

    Which LW book?

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    Thanks, Sandman.  Unlike your wife, I could never warm up to J.D. Robb.  I prefer Patricia Cornwell for murder mysteries.

    Nemingha, so true! But if you haven't read N.R. for awhile, you'll be pleasantly surprised with "In The Garden".  I'm told her more recent trilogies are many times better than the earlier ones that turned me off, but I'm not quite ready to jump back on her fanwagon again. But IGT was a nice ride on the running board.

  • Laughing Mom profile image

    Laughing Mom 

    11 years ago

    Oh! And I want to know if you took the photo at the top of the hub? I only *wish* my beds looked like that!

  • Laughing Mom profile image

    Laughing Mom 

    11 years ago

    We seem to enjoy the same types of writing, Jama.  I haven't read the last two of the series.  I'm actually on to another of Lisa Wingate's right now.  But I'll get there...eventually.

    London Girl is right.  You write one great book review!

    (BTW--I published two yesterday, so it's still your turn)  :-)

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    LG, thanks for that enthusiastic nod of approval! The UK being home to so many great authors (dead and alive), I'm not surprised you haven't heard of Nora Roberts. But I would imagine her books are available in London (if nowhere else in the UK). With so many Americans there, maybe at Waterstone's or even Marks & Sparks, or as a last resort

  • Nemingha profile image


    11 years ago

    I have read several of Nora Roberts' trilogies and I have to agree with you that they do become quite predictable - as do so many other authors when they hit upon a likeable and popular hero or heroine. Then it seems as though they just keep churning out the same book - only with a different title.

    When that happens, I usually leave that particular author alone for a while, but it has been a while now since I read any Nora Roberts so I might give this trilogy a go.

  • profile image


    11 years ago

    My Wife also, but she like both writers, Good Hub

  • LondonGirl profile image


    11 years ago from London

    I've not come across the author before, but this series sounds good.

    You write one hell of a book review!

  • Christoph Reilly profile image

    Christoph Reilly 

    11 years ago from St. Louis

    My wife agrees with you.

  • JamaGenee profile imageAUTHOR

    Joanna McKenna 

    11 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    Teresa, I don't know how to break this to you, but there won't be another installment here. Sorry.  But any good library has Blue Dahlia, Black Rose and Red Lily.  They're quite enjoyable reads.

    Christoph, how funny that you too picked up BD for lack of anything else.  But I'm not surprised you didn't finish it.  It really is a chick book.  Your wife is right.  The " Death" books by J.D. Robb are more your speed.  But no, Nora Roberts doesn't have people writing for her, unless it would be the notes of her researchers. Otherwise, she writes it all herself.  Beats me how she cranks out one right after another (and as two different authors!), but she does.

  • Christoph Reilly profile image

    Christoph Reilly 

    11 years ago from St. Louis

    I am an avid reader - not necessarily fast, a few pages before bed - but persistant, and found myself last week without a new book, which sent me to my wife's recent book pile. An so it was I found myself reading "Blue Dahlia." It did not appear to be my cup of tea, and in fact the next day my wife told me as much. Instead she gave me "Naked in Death" by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts writing as.) I must say, I am enjoying it.

    I suspect Nora Roberts has several people who write for her because she is more polific than Stephen King. Still, she has talent, and seems to be able to write in whatever style she chooses.

  • Teresa McGurk profile image


    11 years ago from The Other Bangor

    I've never read any Nora Roberts -- but I'm looking forward to hearing the next installment.


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