The Floating Garden

The Floating Garden by Emma Ashmere (2)

The Floating Garden (2015)

Shortlisted for the Small Press Network Book of The Year Award 2016.


“…beautifully detailed… finely crafted…an elegy for the forgotten….a subversive counter-history to the tumult of rapid progress.” The Sydney Morning HeraldThe Age.

Sydney, 1926. The residents of the tight-knit Milsons Point community have been thrown into chaos by the building of the harbour bridge.

Ellis Gilbey, landlady by day, gardening writer by night, is set to lose everything.

As her world begins to crumble, Ellis retreats into the past when she was forced to flee her father’s drought-ravaged farm, and landed in the unlikely care of self-styled theosophist and charismatic orator, Minerva Stranks.

Ellis is jolted back to the present when wealthy the artist Rennie Howarth knocks on her door seeking refuge from her stifling upper-class life. But can Rennie’s flighty plans offer lasting sanctuary? Or will Ellis be cast out once again? As the future looms uncertain, the past stays uncannily in pursuit.

Evoking the hardships and the glories of 1920s Sydney, this novel tells the little-known story of those evicted by the coming of the famous bridge. Peopled by misfits, bohemians, charlatans, and fly-by-nighters, The Floating Garden is about shedding secrets, seizing second chances, and finding love amongst the ruins.


“…a beautiful meditation on grief, guilt, and regret, set against the backdrop of Milsons Point, Sydney, 1926.” Judges’ report 2016 Small Press Network Book of the Year Award.

“…evocatively portrays both the difficulties and the sense of promise in the post-war era… at times it reminded me of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet.” ⋆⋆⋆⋆ (four stars) Books+Publishing

“…beautifully detailed… finely crafted…an elegy for the forgotten….a subversive counter-history to the tumult of rapid progress.” The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Read the full review here.

“I enthusiastically recommend this book … a new type of historical fiction.” ⋆⋆⋆⋆ (four stars) MD Brady’s US blog: Me, You and Books.

“This captivating debut… teems with charlatans, eccentrics and those doing it tough in a time of hardship and prejudice. Yet Ashmere weaves a sense of hope and redemption as her characters seek to rediscover their true selves.” ⋆⋆⋆⋆ (four stars) The Advertiser.

“I loved the vivid descriptions of the market and the ferries; the sights and scents of lush plant life; the mud, slush and sordid decay of the houses … the shadowy dangers that lurk in the cramped dark streets… Without idealising poverty, Ashmere depicts this Sydney as a place for the marginalised and eccentric.” Lisa Hill (Top 10 Books 2016) ANZlitlovers

“Ashmere does for the underprivileged of 1920s Sydney what Ruth Park did for the 1950s in Harp in the South… both exude warmth and sympathy for their motley crew of marginalised characters, and both are valuable for their social history.” Whispering Gums.

“…a surprising love story, full of turns, transformations and ‘slips of the heart.’ A wise, tender and beautifully detailed novel.” Gail Jones, author of The House of Breathing, Five Bells, and The Death of Noah Glass.

“[A] compelling and lyrical novel of a rough-and-ready Sydney that is in the throes of rapid change; a town where the spiritual is necessary but corrupted,a and where sexual lives remain hidden even from those in the grip of desire.” Sophie Cunningham, author of Bird, and City of Trees.

“A charming and lyrical story of masculine ambition outwitted by feminine fruition. 1920s Sydney in all her raffish grandeur, flourishes on every page.” Mandy Sayer, author of Love in the Years of Lunacy, and Australian Gypsies.

“…a beautiful and quietly enthralling work… it skillfully renders the range and complexity of women’s lives.” Jessica White, author of A Curious Intimacy, and Hearing Maud.

The Floating Garden follows the fortunes of the unforgettable Ellis Gilbey, the highly-strung artist Rennie Howarth, the charismatic theosophist Miss Minerva Stranks, and the delicate Kitty Tate. A beautifully written debut novel. Jesse Blackadder, author of The Raven’s Heart, Chasing the Light, and Sixty Seconds.

“Emma Ashmere’s subtle, wry storytelling takes the reader inside 1920s Sydney… it is the story of those women who dared to want more than society offered them.”  Sarah Armstrong, author of Salt Rain, His Other House, and Promise.

the bookshelf jun 2019

Hear an interview about Emma’s debut novel The Floating Garden with Kate Evans on Radio National’s Books & Arts program.

See more reviews of The Floating Garden here.

A NOTE about the cover of The Floating Garden. ‘The Bridge’ (1930) was painted by South Australian artist, Dorrit Black. See more about her remarkable life and work here: Rescuing the Reputation of Early Australian Modernist Dorrit Black

Read an extract of The Floating Garden here

Where to buy the book in Australia in your region AUD$26.95:

The Book Warehouse (Lismore, NSW)
The Book Room (Byron Bay, NSW)
Gleebooks (Sydney)
Readings Books & Music (Melbourne)
Avid Reader (Brisbane)
Imprints Booksellers (Adelaide)

Book Depository

Wheelers (New Zealand)
Abe Books
Barnes & Noble (US)
Independent Publishers Group IPG (US Distributor)
Amazon (UK)
Word Power Books online (UK)
Foyles (UK)
Waterstones (UK)

The Floating Garden ebook
Amazon kindle edition

Oil on canvas artwork by Delma Corazon titled Memento

‘Memento’ – oil on canvas by Delma Corazon

News Flash!! Emma Ashmere’s short story collection DREAMS THEY FORGOT is published by her newDreams They Forgot cover.12 LS.indd publisher Wakefield Press – and is on the Sydney Morning Herald’s Books to Read in 2020 and Readings Books to Get Excited About.

Exif_JPEG_420Emma Ashmere was born in Adelaide South Australia on Kaurna country. She has worked as a researcher, tutor, bookseller – and as a cook on film sets, an isolated cattle station, Sydney cafés, London pubs, and an art school in the south of France. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Adelaide and a PhD on the use of marginalised histories in fiction from La Trobe University Melbourne, and is a recipient of the QWC/Olvar Wood award and the Varuna Writers Space award. Her short stories and articles have been widely published including in The Age, Meanjin, Overland, Review of Australian Fiction, and Commonwealth Writers Magazine adda. She was shortlisted for the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Award, the 2019 Newcastle Short Story Prize, the 2018 Overland/NUW Fair Australia Prize, and longlisted for the Big Issue Fiction Edition 2020 and the Heroines Anthology 2020. Her short story collection DREAMS THEY FORGOT is on the Sydney Morning Herald’s Books to Read in 2020, Readings Books to Get Excited About., and Readings 100 Great Reads by Australian Women 2020. Emma lives in northern New South Wales on Bundjalung land.

Copyright Emma Ashmere © 2015