Garden Spells: A Novel

Garden Spells: A Novel

by Sarah Addison Allen

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In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it. . . .

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.

Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own. . . .

BONUS: This edition contains excerpts from Sarah Addison Allen's First Frost and The Girl Who Chased the Moon.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553904123
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/28/2007
Series: Waverly Family , #1
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 45,678
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Sarah Addison Allen lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she is at work on her next novel.

From the Hardcover edition.


Asheville, North Carolina

Place of Birth:

Asheville, North Carolina


B.A. in Literature, 1994

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Every smiley moon, without fail, Claire dreamed of her childhood. She always tried to stay awake those nights when the stars winked and the moon was just a cresting sliver smiling provocatively down at the world, the way pretty women on vintage billboards used to smile as they sold cigarettes and limeade. On those nights in the summer, Claire would garden by the light of the solar-powered footpath lamps, weeding and trimming the night bloomers-the moon vine and the angel's trumpet, the night jasmine and the flowering tobacco. These weren't a part of the Waverley legacy of edible flowers, but sleepless as she often was, Claire had added flowers to the garden to give her something to do at night when she was so wound up that frustration singed the edge of her nightgown and she set tiny fires with her fingertips.

What she dreamed of was always the same. Long roads like snakes with no tails. Sleeping in the car at night while her mother met men in bars and honky-tonks. Being a lookout while her mother stole shampoo and deodorant and lipstick and sometimes a candy bar for Claire at Shop-and-Gos around the Midwest. Then, just before she woke up, her sister, Sydney, always appeared in a halo of light. Lorelei held Sydney and ran to the Waverley home in Bascom, and the only reason Claire was able to go with them was because she was holding tight to her mother's leg and wouldn't let go.

That morning, when Claire woke up in the backyard garden, she tasted regret in her mouth. With a frown, she spit it out. She was sorry for the way she'd treated her sister as a child. But the six years of Claire's life before Sydney's arrival had been fraught with the constant fear of being caught, of being hurt, of not having enough food or gas or warm clothes for the winter. Her mother always came through but always at the last minute. Ultimately, they were never caught and Claire was never hurt and, when the first cold snap signaled the changing colors of the leaves, her mother magically produced blue mittens with white snowflakes on them and pink thermal underwear to wear under jeans and a cap with a droopy ball on top. That life on the run had been good enough for Claire, but Lorelei obviously thought Sydney deserved better, that Sydney deserved to be born with roots. And the small scared child in Claire hadn't been able to forgive her.

Picking up the clippers and the trowel from the ground beside her, she stood stiffly and walked in the dawning fog toward the shed. She suddenly stopped. She turned and looked around. The garden was quiet and damp, the temperamental apple tree at the back of the lot shivering slightly as if dreaming. Generations of Waverleys had tended this garden. Their history was in the soil, but so was their future. Something was about to happen, something the garden wasn't ready to tell her yet. She would have to keep a sharp eye out.

She went to the shed and carefully wiped the dew off the old tools and hung them on their places on the wall. She closed and locked the heavy gate door to the garden, then crossed the driveway at the back of the ostentatious Queen Anne-style home she'd inherited from her grandmother.

Claire entered the house through the back, stopping in the sunroom that had been turned into a drying and cleaning room for herbs and flowers. It smelled strongly of lavender and peppermint, like walking into a Christmas memory that didn't belong to her. She drew her dirty white nightgown over her head, balled it up, and walked naked into the house. It was going to be a busy day. She had a dinner party to cater that night, and it was the last Tuesday in May, so she had to deliver her end-of-the-month shipment of lilac and mint and rose-petal jellies and nasturtium and chive-blossom vinegars to the farmers' market and to the gourmet grocery store on the square, where the college kids from Orion College would hang out after classes.

There was a knock at the door as Claire was pulling her hair back with combs. She went downstairs in a white eyelet sundress, still barefooted. When she opened the door, she smiled at the fireplug of an old lady standing on the porch.

Evanelle Franklin was seventy-nine years old, looked like she was one hundred and twenty, yet still managed to walk a mile around the track at Orion five days a week. Evanelle was a distant relation, a second or third or fourteenth cousin, and she was the only other Waverley still living in Bascom. Claire stuck to her like static, needing to feel a connection to family after Sydney took off when she was eighteen and their grandmother died the same year.

When Claire was young, Evanelle would stop by to give her a Band-Aid hours before she scraped her knee, quarters for her and Sydney long before the ice cream truck arrived, and a flashlight to put under her pillow a full two weeks before lightning struck a tree down the street and the entire neighborhood was without power all night. When Evanelle brought you something, you were usually going to need it sooner or later, though that cat bed she gave Claire five years ago had yet to find its use. Most people in town treated Evanelle kindly but with amusement, and even Evanelle didn't take herself too seriously. But Claire knew there was always something behind the strange gifts Evanelle brought.

"Well, don't you look eye-talian with your dark hair and Sophia Loren dress. Your picture should be on a bottle of olive oil," Evanelle said. She was in her green velour running suit, and slung over her shoulder was a rather large tote bag full of quarters and stamps and egg timers and soap, all things she might feel the need to give someone at some point.

"I was just about to make some coffee," Claire said, stepping back. "Come in."

"Don't mind if I do." Evanelle entered and followed Claire to the kitchen, where she sat at the kitchen table while Claire made the coffee. "You know what I hate?"

Claire looked over her shoulder as steam carrying the smell of coffee curled around the kitchen. "What do you hate?"

"I hate summer."Claire laughed. She loved having Evanelle around. Claire had tried for years to get the old lady to move into the Waverley house so she could take care of her, so the house wouldn't feel as if the walls were moving out of her way as she walked, making the hallways longer and rooms bigger. "Why on earth would you hate summer? Summer is wonderful. Fresh air, open windows, picking tomatoes and eating them while they're still warm from the sun."

"I hate summer because most of them college kids leave town, so there aren't as many runners and I don't have any nice male backsides to look at when I walk the track."

"You're a dirty old lady, Evanelle."

"I'm just sayin'."

"Here you go," Claire said, setting a coffee cup on the table in front of Evanelle.

Evanelle peered into the cup. "You didn't put anything in it, did you?"

"You know I didn't."

"Because your side of the Waverleys always wants to put something in everything. Bay leaves in bread, cinnamon in coffee. I like things plain and simple. Which reminds me, I brought you something." Evanelle grabbed her tote bag and brought out a yellow Bic lighter.

"Thank you, Evanelle," Claire said as she took the lighter and put it in her pocket. "I'm sure this will come in handy."

"Or maybe it won't. I just knew I had to give it to you." Evanelle, who had twenty-eight sweet teeth, all of them false, picked up her coffee and looked over at the covered cake plate on the stainless-steel island. "What have you made over there?"

"White cake. I stirred violet petals into the batter. And I crystallized some violets to put on top. It's for a dinner party I'm catering tonight." Claire picked up a Tupperware container beside it. "This white cake, I made for you. Nothing weird in it, I promise." She set it on the table next to Evanelle."

You are the sweetest girl. When are you going to get married? When I'm gone, who will take care of you?"

"You're not going anywhere. And this is a perfect house for a spinster to live in. I'll grow old in this house, and neighborhood children will vex me by trying to get to the apple tree in the backyard and I'll chase them away with a broom. And I'll have lots of cats. That's probably why you gave me that cat bed."

Evanelle shook her head. "Your problem is routine. You like your routine too much. You get that from your grandmother. You're too attached to this place, just like her."

Claire smiled because she liked being compared to her grandmother. She had no idea about the security of having a name until her mother brought her here, to this house where her grandmother lived. They'd been in Bascom maybe three weeks, Sydney had just been born, and Claire had been sitting outside under the tullip tree in the front yard while people in town came to see Lorelei and her new baby. Claire wasn't new, so she didn't think anyone would want to see her. A couple came out of the house after visiting, and they watched Claire quietly build tiny log cabins with twigs. "She's a Waverley, all right," the woman said. "In her own world."

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
1. If you believed you possessed the magical powers that Claire Waverley has inherited, how would you use them? What's the first thing you would do?
2. Could you be persuaded that certain plants have powers, as Claire describes and uses them? Does anything in your own experience suggest this possibility?
3. Claire believes all relationships are temporary, and does everything in her power to fight the pain this causes by ordering her life into predictable routines. Sydney's rebellious youth and history of dangerous, unstable affairs recklessly embraces the emotional turmoil Claire avoids. Whose approach to life resonates with you personally? Are their outlooks two sides of the same coin? In the course of the book, how are their attitudes transformed?
4. How do you explain Claire's attraction/repulsion to Tyler? Why do you think Claire sees violet sparks hovering around him the first time she meets him? What makes her eventually realize they are destined to be together?
5. Do you think a child can have the kind of insight and sensitivity that Bay demonstrates? Is a woman more likely to have it than a man? If yes, why?
6. The four Waverley women in this novel (Claire, Sydney, Bay, Evanelle) have special gifts. Which of the four gifts would you like to have? Why? How would you use it?
7. Fred Walker observes, "You are who you are, whether you like it or not, so why not like it?" Consider this statement in relation to the characters of the book, including Emma Clark, Hunter John Matteson, and Henry Hopkins.
8. A bite from an apple from the family tree inspired Lorelei Waverley's flight from Bascom, profoundly influencing the course of her daughters' lives. Would you have reacted in the same way to the knowledge the tree foretold? What alternatives did Lorelei have?
9. If you knew that biting into a Waverley apple would reveal your future, would you bite? Why or why not?


The Waverleys are a curious family to the townspeople of Bascom, North Carolina. Legend has it that their feisty apple tree is enchanted, and that eating its fruit can show you the future. But no one foresaw how two very different sisters would spring from the same family roots.

Claire has never let go of her connection to family and lives alone in the old Waverley home, running a successful catering company and using ingredients from her magical garden.

It has been ten years since Sydney Waverley abandoned the family she was so ashamed of, and now she’s back–with a daughter and a suitcase packed with secrets. Healing the wounds of the past will take more than Claire’s potent hyacinth wine, but the two sisters soon realize that they’re more alike than either could have imagined.

From a bright new author in fiction, Garden Spells is a tale about how the strength of family ties can be as inexplicable as magic itself. The following questions are intended to enhance your discussion of this captivating novel.

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Garden Spells 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2726 reviews.
poosie More than 1 year ago
Garden Spells is the story of four Waverley women, Evanelle, Claire, Sydney, and Bay, as they learn to be comfortable with their special gifts. The Waverley women have always been considered odd, with their powers, and the very strange tree which grows in their garden. The strong characters pull the reader in quickly with the feeling that magic is alive and well and not strange. Full of humor and intense feelings, this is a beautifully written novel that's going to linger in the readers psyche for some time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Magical story with a predictable plot, minimal conflict, some comical antagonists, simplistic characters, an an unbelievable happy ever after: this book has little depth and, on a technical level, not much to offer. In fact, Claire's homeless past and Sydney's abusive boyfriend are almost red herrings, foreshadowing conflicts that never quite arrive. Instead, this book is about self-discovery and love with perfect endings, containing impossible magic. It's set in a small town where the biggest conflict is a foolish family feud. There is no complexity, no hidden meaning or intelligent depth, and readers expecting it will be disappointed.
Garden Spells is fluff. Accept that the book is little more than escapism, and it actually becomes quite a fun read. There's something enjoyable and uplifting about uncomplicated self-discovery and romance, and the magic--unbelievable as it is--is colorful and entertaining. The conflicts of the small town remain vaguely irritating (and mildly sexist), but they're comical as well. So, while the book is simple and unmemorable, it's pure escapism which is surprisingly fun to read. I wasn't blown away by this book and I'll never reread it, but I enjoyed it much more than I expected I would. Exaggerated as it is, I like the magic. There's something oddly enduring about a playful apple tree with prophetic fruit, or the ability to influence memory or emotion by baking with the right edible flowers. All told, I recommend this book only moderately, and only to the reader looking for a lighthearted bit of escapism. It's a good book to borrow, because it won't stand up to rereads. But if you want simple fantasy and fun with a colorful twist, Garden Spells might be a good choice for an empty afternoon.
winter.muse More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Normally I can't get into a what I think is a romance book, but Garden Spells was more than that. It had a great plot and wonderful sub-plots within the story. I loved the characters. And as I live in a rural small town community, I could so relate to the storyline and characters. I found myself laughing as I recalled those I know in my own little small town to characters with similar traits or bearing within the story. This book tells a story of what it is we call home, why we can't wait to get away from it, and the comfort in the reasons we always want to go back. Home has the magic of family. There is a special magic in small towns, and the town of this story is no different. There is drama, controversy, romance, of course magic and even a little humor (lots of humor if you happen to live in a small town rural area yourself.
Allierina More than 1 year ago
This book was incredible!! Its been a long time since I have found a great book that I couldn't put down. I downloaded it last week, and the only reason I stopped reading it temporarily was because the battery on my Nook died, and I had homework that I should've been doing, but wasn't because finishing I was reading. I had to force myself not to charge my Nook until my homework was finished - getting to continue reading Garden Spells was my reward :)!! It is a very quick read! A wonderful, WONDERFUL story! A perfect summer read!!! I am truly devastated that it's over, the book that is!! I want to reread it again!!!
Hope72 More than 1 year ago
Refreshing from beginning to end. Unaware of my surroundings while I read this book. I loved the characters, their personalities, their quirkiness and their love for one another. I was able to cast the characters in my mind with my favorite actresses and actors as I read. I wish I had an Evanelle in my life; or maybe not! The book was the essence of a little Practical Magic and a little Steel Magnolias. Claire and Sydney are both very strong women with an advantage that most women do not have-a little bit of magic in their backyard. If only magic was real to warn us of bad things headed our way or prepare us for what we really want and need most to feel whole inside.
TheCrowdedLeaf More than 1 year ago
This is Sarah Addison Allen's first novel, and I can see why she was published. As much as I loved The Sugar Queen, I think this might have been a tad better. A bit more delicious, if you will. Claire Waverley is a caterer who works with the edible flowers that grow in her mysteriously enchanted garden. Her flowers affect people in different ways, and it's her Waverley talent that she knows them and how to put them into delectable dishes for the best effects. All Waverley's have a talent, which is why the town of Bascom, North Carolina generally tries to avoid socializing with them. But they can't resist Claire's food, and if her older cousin Evanelle gives you a gift? Then you'd best keep it close, you never know when you might need a melon slicer or a couple of quarters. Sydney is Claire's estranged sister, whose return to Bascom shakes things up for the quiet town, and disturbs Claire's delicately assembled routine and way of life. Claire is forced to let people in, Sydney and her daughter Bay amongst others; and Sydney is forced to put down roots. All while purple sparks follow the men in love with them, and apples rain down from the ancient apple tree with "issues." Bread toasts itself, thunder clouds signal bad times ahead, and one bite of a piece of fruit can show you the most important event of your life, for better or worse. The are the Waverley's. Sarah Addison Allen has created a fabulous story, at times fascinating and magical, but suspenseful as well. We can sense the feelings in the air that unease Claire, we know why Sydney is anxious, and Bay is nervous, and the apple tree shivers. The tension builds to a crescendo and I was squeezing the book wide-eyed and breathless. The ending leaves you happy and satisfied, and it's a good thing for us that her third book is released in March. I give Garden Spells 5 stars. It is magical realism at it's best: a dash of a love story, a bit of excitement, a pinch of sensuality, and a flutter of the unexplainable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm surprised that this was a recommended book.This story is so similar to Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic it's almost like reading a book report about Hoffman's book. It was basically the same story with a few changes but not written nearly as well. As an avid reader I was very disappointed.
1louise1 More than 1 year ago
Charming and unique, never a dull moment, this adult fairy tale is the story of Claire and Sydney Waverley, very special sisters who have been estranged for a very long time. It is a special blend of magic without being silly. ENCHANTING! ENJOYED!
Val_E More than 1 year ago
Garden Spells is one of my favorite books. I even had to upgrade my paperback for a hardcover. When I read it I can feel the vibrancy of the colors in the story. The magic would literally sparkle across my imagination as I read it. Anyone looking for a book to sweep you away and/or help you believe that maybe things will work themselves out in the end should give Garden Spells a try.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Gosh I don't even know where to begin. I bought this book because of the great reviews but I found it to be a very dull read. The storyline is very superficial and her writing is at best mediocre. I only finished it because I have bought it. I would not recommend this to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Touching and captivating. Draws you in and does not let go. I have read this book numerous times. Sometimes I read it in one sitting and sometimes I make it last a few days so I get to stay in Allen's world just a bit longer. Beautiful story.
mja56 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It is excellent reading, good story and whimsical in its own way. I would recommend this book in a heartbeat. I can't wait to read her next book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was absolutely fabulous! I bought it because it was on the Barnes and Noble suggested reading list. I had a really hard time putting it down. I found myself drawn into the lives of the characters. It was interesting to see a witching family with different abilities besides just spells and chants! I can't wait to read more from this fascinating author!
vanillabrite More than 1 year ago
I was very excited to read this book, and heard wonderful reviews, and then I read it. And the whole time I was reading it it sounded just like a certain movie which happens to be one of my favorites... And suddenly Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman were the main characters! The story and characters are such a cheap rip off of the move Practical Magic it isn't even funny. Two sisters born into a family who is "different" and known for witchcraft. And resented for it. One sister leaves to escape her past, the other stays and starts selling magical herbs. They live in a weird old house in a small town on the East coast. Need I continue? I couldn't believe how entirely the plot was ripped off from that. This book was published in 2008, and that movie came out years ago, possibly based on a book before that. I don't know at what point copyrights are infringed upon, but this book is just Practical Magic with new names and a different town.
TheGamesAfoot More than 1 year ago
The characters are elegantly complex and endearing. I found myself wishing heavily that I were Southern. Highly recommend this book!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sarah Addison Allen is one of my new favorite authors! Garden Spells is must read book that not only satisfies but feeds your soul. Trust me, you don't want to miss it!
Carolyn Crowder More than 1 year ago
Good easy read. Great weekend book. The tree was the best part.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the story might remind one of "Practical Magic", it is still a fun and magical read, and I found it hard to put down the book until the story was finished. I'm happy to see that the author has another couple of books out and plan to read them also.
Squigie More than 1 year ago
An enjoyable read about family relationships with a little magic thrown into the mix. I enjoyed the characters and the world created in this book. A good read.
TeRenee More than 1 year ago
While the story was predictable, I loved the culinary descriptions and horticulture/magical folklore. It drew me in and kept me there till the end. Enjoyable.
Scat30 More than 1 year ago
Garden Spells is a great book to pick up. It brings the reader to a unrealistic way of life. When you read Garden Spells you enter into a magical little world through the main characters points of view.
maryanorton More than 1 year ago
The Waverley Family and their neighbors in the town of Bascom are unusual. And this is not a bad thing. Sydney comes home with her daughter, turns her sister's life upside down and they both learn the meaning of home. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was interesting, it moved right along and the characters were fleshed out and fun to read about. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book reminded me of Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. It was bordering on plagarism. All the major plotlines are similar in some way to a major plotline in that book. And Practical Magic was better written.
nakedmangoes More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. For me, it read like a modern day, adult fairy tale; just enough magic and fantasy to make me fall in love with it... Like a bowl of Ben & Jerry's, the perfect dessert : )
Anonymous 6 months ago
How lovely to read a book that tugs a little, even if it deals with sensitive issues. A few good laughs thrown in for a most enjoyable read.