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The First Gardener Paperback – July 19, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


International speaker and author Jones (Hurricanes in Paradise) crafts a heart-wrenchingly believable story that at times mirrors her own life. Mackenzie, the wife of Tennessee governor Gray London, has yearned for years for nothing else but a child. Mack finally conceives, and little Maddie becomes the center of this couple's world until a tragedy shatters the family. In the aftermath, an unremarkable man, a gardener named Jeremiah, begins to pierce the wall of Mack's pain and reach her soul through flowers. Each gift has a specific meaning and, while not always well received, Mack ultimately gets the messages God is communicating through Jeremiah's blooms. One blossom at a time, Mack's heartache mends under the tender ministrations of a master gardener who plants and prays in equal measure. Jones's novel offers comfort and challenge, and readers will find it lingering in their hearts and minds long after the last page has been turned. (Aug.) --Publishers Weekly, June 20, 2011

For over 25 years, Jeremiah Williams has been the head gardener at the Tennessee governor's mansion and has served many first families. But Governor Gray London and his wife, Mackenzie, have a special place in Jeremiah's heart. He watched the couple struggle for years to have a child. Now five years old, their adorable daughter, Maddie, is about to start kindergarten. When a crippling tragedy strikes the family, Jeremiah must offer Mackenzie the comfort she seeks to find her way out of her depression. ¬VERDICT This tender and uplifting read by the author of the Savannah series (Savannah from Savannah; Savannah Comes Undone; Savannah by the Sea) should find its way into the hands of readers who like the Southern novels of Rebecca Wells. --Library Journal, June 15, 2011

From the Back Cover

If heaven had a backyard, it would look like the gardens of the Tennessee governor’s mansion.
Jeremiah Williams has been tending those gardens 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, are enjoying a sweet season of life 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. So he gently begins to cultivate the hard soil of Mackenzie’s heart, hoping to show her what it took him decades 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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (July 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 141433558X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1414335582
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (347 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Denise Hildreth Jones is an author and Bible Study teacher. Her books have been hailed as "smart and witty" by The Library Journal and featured twice in Southern Living. She lives in Franklin, Tennessee, with her husband, five bonus children, and her dog where she leads Reclaiming Hearts Ministries. Visit her at

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Sweet Tea on August 14, 2011
Format: Paperback
As an avid reader I love being given the chance to review books. If the book happens to be southern fiction that is even better! I was so happy when I was recently given the chance to review The First Gardener by Denise Hildreth Jones. The storyline of this book revolves around the family and staff of a fictional Tennessee governor and how they deal with a terrible tragedy.

Governor Gray London and his wife, Mackenzie, are living a life that they have worked hard to achieve. Their five-year-old daughter, Maddie, is the light of their life and the family has settled comfortably into their new home at the governor's mansion. Life seem idyllic when a terrible tragedy shatters their world.

Despite the sad plotline, the book was an unexpectedly easy read. The story is told from the view of many different characters (Gray, Mackenzie, Mackenzie's mother, Jeremiah the gardener, etc.) and I think this method helps the book from becoming too heavy with the grief of the those closest to the tragedy.

I liked the main characters well enough but I thought the secondary characters were the highlight of the book. Mackenzie's mother, Eugenia, and her circle of friends are a colorful group and they added some lightness to the story.

This book is considered "Christian literature". I don't typically read books in this genre but I found that the religious aspect of this book were subtle. If you are thinking about reading this book but just aren't sure, don't let the label of Christian Lit be a deciding factor against reading it. The message isn't one of religion but more one of being thankful for the things you have.

In exchange for writing a review Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of The First Gardener.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Loren M. Mcghee on September 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
The First Gardner is such a heart-wrenching story of loss. Mackenzie and her husband, Gray, who is the Governor of Tennessee,
are enjoying such a wonderful season in their life. After years of trying to have children, finally, they were blessed with their daughter, Maddie. Mackenzie and Gray are so happy and little Maddie is just the light of their lives! Just as she is about to start Kindergarten, tragedy strikes the London family.

Jeremiah, tends the Governor's Mansion garden, and has for the last 25 years. He has a very special place in his heart for this family. He has learned many lessons while gardening and longs to help the London family deal with their loss. He shares the one thing he know best ~ flowers.

I have to share about a very special woman in this story ~ Eugenia, Mackenzie's Mother! She comes to tend to Mackenzie and is just one of the brightest spots in this book! She brings laughter in what might be just a very sad book. She loves and cares for Mackeznie even though she is grieving as well. Like most Mothers do, give to their children before themselves right??!!

First Gardner although it is heart-wrenching, it is a book I will recommend to all! Truly, it is a must read along with must have kleenex's! You just may find yourself so involved with these characters and be inspired by them as well!
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Daysong Reflections VINE VOICE on July 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
Although the title of this book is The First Gardener, Jeremiah Williams' actual role in it is a subtle one. Primarily a story about Tennessee governor Gray London, his wife McKenzie, and the tragedies that threaten to destroy them. His own heart nearly broken, Jeremiah sets about in his own deliberate manner to minister to the family as they struggle with their grief and depression. The basic story is told in third person and Jeremiah's side of the story is narrated in first person.

The First Gardener is a deviation from earlier books I've read by this author. The depth of emotions described in most of the story would be overwhelming if not for some comic relief by Eugenia and her quirky band of sidekicks. Jeremiah's character adds a steady voice of faith and wisdom.

As a life-long Tennessee resident, I enjoyed the author's descriptions of the governor's mansion and nearby Franklin. I would also love to have a governor who seemed to care as much about his state as Gray London. Our new governor is still a somewhat unknown quantity to me so I won't judge him just yet. I also enjoyed learning the meanings of different flowers.

I can't say I totally enjoyed this story. It is just too brutally heart breaking to imagine that kind of loss. But as always, I enjoyed the way Denise has with words and characters as she makes them step off the page.

This book was provided for review by The Tyndale Blog Network.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Anne Payne on September 12, 2011
Format: Paperback
Not having read any books written by Denise, I had no idea what to expect. I'm not a big fan of contemporary fiction. But being a southerner, the setting and the cover enticed me to choose this book. I am so glad!!!

With a myriad of characters, this is one emotional roller coaster ride. From a child's giddy laughter to a gardner's silent prayers you will be taken to depths and heights you cannot imagine in this jewel of a book!

I must admit when I began reading I realized fairly quickly what was going to happen. That being said, it took awhile for events to unfold and in that time my anger began to build toward Mackenzie. I thought she was too indulgent and that was going to be trouble. Basically, I was blaming her ahead of time for what I knew was going to happen. Yep. It did. Can you tell I'm involved in this book yet?!

What I ignored, in my humanity, is that God is the One in control! There is nothing we can do to thwart God's plan but when tragedy strikes we must not play the blame game (even toward ourselves) because there is no one to blame. God holds all things in His capable hands and He is the One we must lean on in our darkest hour!

Of course Mackenzie's husband, the governor, and her mom play important rolls in the book but Jeremiah, The First Gardner, is the one I fell in love with. He's an old man with a heart of gold! I only wish I had a tenth of the servant heart and green thumb that he does. His quiet strength, unwavering love and wisdom are treasures that make this book shine. Oh, that we all could have a Jeremiah in our lives!

Bravo Denise!!! I highly recommend this book to everyone! It is a must read from this reviewers point of view whether you like contemporary fiction or not. You won't be disappointed.
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