The Watcher in the Garden by Joan Phipson

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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The Watcher In The Garden

The Watcher In The Garden

Joan Phipson, Margo Lanagan

$12.95Buy now

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