Sunday, August 26, 2012

The First Gardener by Denise Hildreth Jones

Read the first chapter here
Jeremiah Williams has been tending the gardens of the Tennessee governor’s mansion for over twenty-five years. And like most first families who have come and gone, this one has stolen his heart.
Mackenzie and her husband, Governor Gray London, have struggled for ten years to have a child and are now enjoying a sweet season of life—anticipating the coming reelection and sending their precious daughter, Maddie, off to kindergarten—when a tragedy tears their world apart. As the entire state mourns, Mackenzie falls into a grief that threatens to swallow her whole.

Though his heart is also broken, Jeremiah realizes that his gift of gardening is about far more than pulling weeds and planting flowers. It’s about tending hearts as well. As he uses the tools that have been placed in his hands, he gently begins to cultivate the hard soil of Mackenzie’s heart, hoping to help her realize what it took him years to discover.

A Southern tale of loss, love, and living, The First Gardener reminds us that all of life is a gift, but our heart is the most valuable gift of all.

The First Gardener was a heart wrenching story that left me in tears but that renewed me at the same time. The plot line was well written and included many unexpected occurrences. I was not expecting such horrible events to befall the London family, and the final chapter also came as a complete shock. The storyline was beautifully woven and kept engaged the entire time. I read the entire book in a single evening because I could not put it down. The tone of the book varied with the characters' feelings and situations, and the language change between the chapters told from Jeremiah's perspectives versus the other chapters was excellent. 

The characters were wonderfully developed and complex. Jeremiah had incredible faith in God, knowledge about different flowers' meanings, and the confidence to witness to those who were hurting. The final revealing piece of his character and life fit in so well and only increased my admiration of his strength and faith. Mackenzie experienced the most devastating grief and the complete shutdown of all emotions. This made me sympathize with her and grieve with her, but made it hard for me to connect with her simply because I have never experienced such great devastation. However, many people do go through that kind of suffering and grief, and her growth and recovery were critical to the story and important for all readers to see. Gray was amazing. He continued to love and pursue his wife even as she withered away on the inside. Gray was not without his faults, and he did experience several complete breakdowns as he grieved and as he refused to acknowledge that he needed help. Eugenia, Mackenzie's mom, was the complete opposite of her daughter and provided an excellent foil to her and Grey. She was bossy, controlling, and critical, but she loved her family immensely and only sought their good and to help them in their time of need. She and her friends had many hilarious scenes and provided critical comic relief in the dark moments of the novel.

The First Gardener was filled with powerful themes that really spoke to me. These included the need to grieve openly and not hold it inside, be open to the work of God, and the faithfulness of God even in the midst of great tragedy. This novel was convicting and heart wrenching and beautifully spoke of loss, love, and open arms of the First Gardener who loves us and holds us through it all.


  1. Renn,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read my novel and review it. As an author I never take that for granted. Thank you for taking those characters in so beautifully. You covered the heart of this story in a very thoughtful and honest way.
    Denise Hildreth Jones

    1. Thank you! I really enjoyed The First Gardener. Thank you for writing this wonderful book with such deep characters.


  2. Hey Renn,
    I work with Denise Hildreth Jones and was wanting to know if you have her two new books for review. If not, and you are interested you can contact me directly at and I can get Tyndale to send one out to you.
    Joan Berry