The Watcher In The Garden

Joan Phipson, Margo Lanagan

The Watcher In The Garden
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The Watcher In The Garden

Joan Phipson, Margo Lanagan

Trespassing in Mr Lovett’s secluded garden was a welcome escape for sixteen-year-old Catherine. A haven away from the parents who didn’t understand her moodiness and from her pretty, even-tempered sister, Diana, who she resented. It was a place to be alone.

But this all changes when Catherine is confronted by Mr Lovett and, realising he is blind, decides to confide in him. And so begins a remarkable friendship. Unexpectedly, a third person appears in the garden- an intruder. Terry, abrasive and sullen, menacing even - has a claim to make on the garden. It is a piece of land he feels should belong to his own family. In his plan neither Mr Lovett nor the garden are safe and it is up to Catherine to stop him but in Terry, she recognises something of herself.

A complex and gripping novel of human relationships from one of Australia’s foremost authors for young adults.


The slightly sinister title was what initially drew me in to this unusual thriller. Long after finishing the final pages, its unsettling after-effects still linger.

Sixteen-year-old Kitty (Catherine) struggles with big emotions. She feels like an outsider in her own family. Hijacked by sudden rages, she is driven to do things she cannot understand or control. In a blind rage she seeks solace in Mr Lovett’s garden and instead discovers a strange sentience there.

As she is initially perceived as a threat, the garden is antagonistic towards her. But as an unlikely friendship grows between Kitty and Mr Lovett, she finds her relationship with the garden changes too. She begins to benefit from its healing, transformative powers.

Kitty is not the only trespasser, however. Terry, a bitter, resentful neighbour with a long-held desire to own a piece of Mr Lovett’s garden, is also keeping a watchful eye on the garden and its blind, elderly owner. As Terry plots against Mr Lovett, Kitty seeks to protect and warn him of coming danger.

The garden enables Kitty and Terry to perceive and feel things through extrasensory powers. A force to be reckoned with itself, the garden takes sides in the conflict, intent on harming anyone who poses a threat. Eventually something must give.

The garden in the story is rooted in an actual place – Everglades, now a National Trust managed garden, in the Blue Mountains town of Leura, outside Sydney.

Published in 1982, this novel is reissued as a Text Classic with a superb introduction by Margo Lanagan. Highly recommended for readers aged 12+ who love a tense, slow-burning plot.

Bianca Looney works as a bookseller at Readings Kids.

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