FROM Denise Hildreth Jones's Newsletter

Genre: Mainstream, Inspirational
Visit Denise Hildreth Jones's Website

Author's Message

Not since my very first novel Savannah from Savannah have I had a book that simply came from an unknown place. All I knew was that this character Jeremiah, who begins and ends The First Gardener, was stuck in my head. He had a voice. An occupation. And a face. I also knew I wanted to set a novel in my home state of Tennessee. I've written about Georgia, a place I've never lived, and South Carolina, the state I grew up in, but I had never written about Tennessee. The place I’ve called home for almost twenty years.
I also knew the tragedy this story would hold. I’m not sure why this was the story I chose to tell. I knew the hearts in this novel would suffer the ultimate loss and that they would have to fight for survival. And I knew Jeremiah would be the gardener. The one who tends the fertile soil of the Governor’s mansion, and who was just as much a master at tending hearts.

I have also never read or written a novel where one person’s voice was in first person and the rest of the character’s were in third. I’m sure they exist. I’ve just never read them. But Jeremiah had a voice and I knew he was the story-teller, the one who saw things deeper and more clearly than any other character. Originally I only had Jeremiah and the Governor, Gray London and his wife Mackenzie as the central characters with their own voice. But with the weight of the theme and story-line I didn’t want people throwing the book across the room and refusing to read another page.

That was when I made Mackenzie’s mother Eugenia a main character as well. She had three crazy old coots for friends and every time they came up on the page my heart felt lighter. And I felt like that would allow the reader some places to breathe.

The First Gardener is a special book to me. I’m not sure why. I just knew that there was something magical in Jeremiah. Pain is universal. It is one thing that touches us all. And when you’re in the middle of pain you need people who can walk with you through it. Who won’t abandon you. And who have no trouble looking at you when pain turns to self-pity and saying, “now it’s time to move on.” Jeremiah is that kind of friend.
-         Denise Hildreth Jones

To read First Chapter of "The First Gardener" click link

Chosen as Books A Million October Faith Point Book Club Pick!
An excerpt from their review:

“I would highly recommend this book. It was deep, entertaining, captivating and one I will long remember.”
Publisher’s Weekly: “International speaker and author Jones (Hurricanes in Paradise) crafts a heart-wrenchingly believable story that at times mirrors her own life…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.”
Library Journal: “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.”

This is the book trailer for her previous book Hurricanes in Paradise but at the end of it she talks about The First Gardener. I thought you would enjoy this. I know I did!



By Denise Hildreth Jones
Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (August 1, 2011)
ISBN# 978-1414335582
432 Pages

Book Cover: Jeremiah Williams has been tending the gardens of the Tennessee governor’s mansion 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, have struggled for ten years to have a child and are now enjoying a sweet season of life—anticipating the coming reelection and sending their precious daughter, Maddie, off to kindergarten—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. As he uses the tools that have been placed in his hands, he gently begins to cultivate the hard soil of Mackenzie’s heart, hoping to help her realize what it took him years to discover.

A Southern tale of loss, love, and living, The First Gardner reminds us that all of life is a gift, but our heart is the most valuable gift of all.

REVIEW: I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Denise’s compelling new novel. It’s a gripping and accurate look at two imperfect people’s lives in the middle of a horrific battle for their souls. The reader gets an intimate glimpse inside the hearts of a couple in-love with each other and life until one day they are hit with an unexpected blow. Gray and Mackenzie take a hit they my not recover from.

Fans will get to see another side of this author’s creative talent as they read The First Gardner. This book is quite different from her others. A good different! It’s a brilliant different that shows a maturity in her writing and character development. Denise’s story is rich and illuminating as she peals back the layers of this couples life to show what’s really inside the human heart, when the rubber meets the road. Not everything comes up roses! Denise Hildreth Jones shows the reader God is with us even in our anger and pain!

I adored the gardener, Jeremiah. I liked how he described pain and our wounded heart, “A shut-down heart’s ‘bout the saddest thing ever I see. ‘Cause we all come out the womb with our hearts wide open. All sweet an trustin’ and close to God. It like we got this line runnin’ straight up to heaven.

But life can start cuttin’ into the line. Little cut when we little and sump’n sad happens or we find out somebody can do things better ‘an we can. More little cuts…all that just keep sawin’ at that line from heaven to that little alive heart. And finally it don’t want to stay open no more, so it just clench up!

That be to what a shut down heart look like-all sad and scared and bitter, all them things. But the real sad they is, it don’t have to shut down! Cause even with all them cuts, that line to heaven still there. If it go and close up, that our doing!”

I fell in love with five year old Maddie,  Mackenzie and Grays daughter. Denise has the reader laughing out-loud one minute and their throat tightening up, and tears run down their faces the next. A scene that cracked me up was when Maddie approaches her dad about keeping a dog she loves. Gray says, “Puppies are a lot of responsibility, Maddie.”

“Tons, Daddy. And I’m so big, I’ll take good care of her. Feed her. Pee her. Poop her. All of it, Daddy.” I could just see her adorable eyes looking at her daddy pleading her case for a puppy.

Eugenia’s friends are a riot and made me laugh as well, they go to lunch and say to the waitress, “I’ll have a piece of your chess pie and a piece of your chocolate pie,…And Dimples here wants your mint fudge brownie and a piece of pecan pie. We have both decided that life is better if you lead with dessert.”

I loved this novel that reveals Denise’s pure honesty and willingness to be so vulnerable. She says, “I discovered as I began to write about Gray and Mackenzie’s pain over losing Maddie that I was able to use much of my own personal pain about not having children that had been a deep ache in my heart for so long!...I do know what it is to grieve the children I thought I would give birth to… I’ve learned God will give us beautiful companions on the journeys through our pain if we are willing to open our eyes and look for them.”

I loved the fact that Jeremiah sent flowers to Mackenzie every day. Each flower had its own meaning and he encouraged her without the use of a single word. I applaud Denise Hildreth Jones for her honest, refreshing way in which she looked at pain and the battle being waged against our souls. How do we fight the good fight on days we can’t even get out of bed? God says He’s the Glory and the lifter of our head!! My Hope and Refuge.
Denise gives a peek into how God works in our lives in unexpected ways. I highly recommend this story which gives the reader a visual on the attributes of God and so much more. These characters will stay in your heart and mine long after the last page is read!

Nora St.Laurent
The Book Club Network
Finding Hope Through Fiction  


  1. WOW! Awesome review and it makes me want to start reading it right now.

  2. Great review! I must read this book!