In honor of Gifts of the Garden Month, each week in May I will be highlighting the gifts of books and gardens. My two favorite worlds collide! Join me each Thursday to celebrate the wonders of pages and flowers.
I grew up watching Practical Magic. I wanted to be Sally, to dress like her in vintage print skirts and soft sweaters, to grow my hair out long and thick and wavy like hers. I wanted that old rambling house, margarita dances at midnight, and a sister who could be counted on to come home by the light of the moon (got that one). I watched it as part of my Halloween movie marathon every year, though it’s not strictly an autumn movie, sat and finished it whenever it came on cable, and over the years, it became one of those films I went to when I needed something to make me feel good.
I didn’t really think about reading the book by Alice Hoffman until the prequel The Rules of Magic was released in 2017. I devoured Rules, savored and treasured every moment with Frances and Jet, my favorite quirky aunts who in the film were shrouded in mystery. I read Practical Magic soon after, and frankly, I was disappointed.
The story took place far from the beautiful old Victorian manor of the film and revolved more around suburban troubles than the magic of the story. The aunts were hardly in it at all. I was confused about how the filmmakers crafted that wonderful film from such bland source material, but for the first time in my life, I held my ground that the movie was better than the book.
Rules filled the void a little for me, but I wanted the magic and sisterhood and mystery and magic of the film in a book. I still maintain that Alice Hoffman wrote Rules in the tradition of the film instead of the book, because it was that much better, and I’m still eagerly anticipating her newest installment of the series Magic Lessons, about the original Owens woman, sure that it will be more like Rules and less like Practical Magic.
A few months after getting rid of my copy of Practical Magic, I found what I was looking for.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen was the cure. I read this book in one sitting, gobbling up the folkloric magic and sisterhood and quirky house and small town. Like Practical Magic, it centers around two sisters dealing with a heritage of magic women as they find (and get rid of) love and craft their own charmed worlds. This book is utterly charming. It blends magic and food and the garden in such a beautiful way, that I spent copious amounts of time after finishing the book crafting a Pinterest board of the herbal, magic, rural life I was going to live one day.
Claire, the Sally of the book, has stayed her whole life in the family home, tending the garden, talking to the apple tree, and isolating herself against loss and loneliness with old tricks. She’s turned her love of food and magic garden into a successful catering business where the ailments and heartaches of the town can be soothed with a little magic. Evanelle, who is an elderly relation like the aunts, has a gift of being able to give people things just before they need them, and provides humor and light-heartedness to the story. Sydney, the Gilly of the tale, can cut and style someone’s hair so they will be their true selves, replete with confidence and comfort. Her story revolves around a dangerous ex and providing her daughter with the stable, safe, and loving childhood she always felt deprived of herself.
Sure, the similarities to the Practical Magic film are obvious, as this review points out. But that was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted the film Practical Magic in a book and Allen delivered it. Plus, she added in an apple tree with an attitude problem, so a cherry on top for me.
Allen’s books are great. They’re soft, cozy Southern stories, usually centering on thirty-something women who find love and themselves as the navigate a quirky cast of characters and the charms and drawbacks of small town life. They often feature food or the garden, and usually have a little dose of magic, whether overt or subtle. They usually involve sisterhood, whether between actual sisters or women who come to understand each other. They are utterly uplifting and sweet. I’ve enjoyed each one I’ve read (usually in one sitting) even if I forget the story and characters after a few weeks.
Garden Spells, however, stuck with me. It’s one I like to revisit to savor the atmosphere and softness, much like how I keep returning to the film Practical Magic.
Thank you, dear reader, for joining me for another installment in this series. Come back next week for another book and garden pairing. Until next time, dear reader!