Secret Gardens and Secret Gardeners…book reviews
In fact, gardening is not usually a very secretive topic. There’s nothing gardeners and garden-lovers like better than to talk about gardens, visit gardens and share their own garden.
But there are many gardens we simply won’t get to see, or that we can only see on a few ‘open days’ a year. These two books open the gates of these.
(Links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means you can buy the books directly. If you do, I may get a small fee but it won’t affect the price you pay.)
Celebrity secret gardens…
The Secret Gardeners is (beautifully) written by Victoria Summerley with photographs by Hugo Rittson Thomas. It’s sub-titled ‘Britain’s creatives reveal their private sanctuaries.’
There is an impressive list of 25 of ‘Britain’s notable creatives’ whose gardens are featured.
If you’ve ever wondered whether famous people have different gardens from the rest of us, this is the book for you. It features the gardens of Julian Clary, Kirstie Allsopp, Rupert Everett, Jeremy Irons, Cath Kidston, Prue Leith, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Griff Rhys Jones, Sting…and lots more.
As the book says these are ‘individuals who are not known for their gardens’, which is what makes it so interesting. They are also individuals who have been successful enough to have the gardens they really want.
What we want…what we really, really want…
And it seems that what they (and therefore possibly we) really want are beautiful views, bosomy herbaceous borders, classical parterres, tumbling roses, shrubs and a laburnum walk.
Swathes of immaculately striped lawns frame old stone or brick in every garden. Victorian greenhouses and glasshouses have been beautifully restored.
And there are even pots of red begonias (Rupert Everett).
The English country garden rules…
Perhaps there is something about a traditional English country garden that transcends fame, fortune and fashion.
One of the most dramatic photos is of a well known rock star. He is wearing full Gothic black, and is framed by two classical urns, pink hydrangeas and a neatly clipped box hedge. Behind him, the misty English countryside wafts timelessly across the horizon.
Then you’ve got Julian Clary with his love of cottage garden style. And Kirstie Allsopp whizzing across the lawn on a quad bike with a poached egg.
There are exceptions…
Sting and Trudie Styler have a dramatic, contemporary ‘turf labyrinth’. There’s a wonderful photo of them running across it, which made my knees twinge in sympathy. I don’t think I could scamper across a lawn in quite such an agile way.
There is also some experimental, contemporary – or even eccentric – sculpture (Daniel Chadwick, Gus Christie, Cameron Mackintosh). However, it is balanced by classical cherubs, sundials, urns and fountains in many of the other gardens.
The Secret Gardeners is a good read. Keep it by your bedside to dip into on a winter night.
Secret Gardens of East Anglia
Secret Gardens of East Anglia is also a good read. It’s beautifully and knowledgeably written by the award-winning garden writer, Barbara Segall.
The stunning photographs were taken by Marcus Harpur, who died just as the book was being published. Garden photography has lost a huge talent. The photographs in this book really jump out at you, glowing with colour. Those in the gardening world who knew him are deeply saddened by his loss.
Why East Anglia?
‘The big skies and extraordinary light of East Anglia make it unlike anywhere else in British. It offers the most amazing natural conditions in which to create gardens’, according to the author.
East Anglia is also genuinely a relative secret. The British have tended to go west on their travels – the Cotswolds, Dorset, Wales, Cornwall…or up to Scotland.
Not many people think of going garden visiting in Essex.
But if they do, they will come across Ulting Wick, for example. Philippa Burroughs, the owner, ‘has a deft and intuitive use of colour, matched by a thorough knowledge of plants and an exuberant determination to try different combinations.’
For passionate gardeners and garden lovers
The garden owners in Secret Gardens of East Anglia are not necessarily professional gardeners. But they are part of what I would call ‘the gardening world.’ They are experts, even if they don’t have formal qualifications or actually get their hands dirty (and most of them do).
Most have ‘grown up’ with their gardens, experimenting with what works and what doesn’t in a relatively hands-on way.
I imagine that everyone in both books goes to RHS Chelsea at some point. But the East Anglian garden owners are probably also more likely to go to the other RHS shows.
Flip through more of the gardens here:
I’ve done a video review which shows a bit more of both books:
Read them together….
It’s been so interesting to read these two books at the same time. If you flipped quickly through, you would see parterres, clipped topiary, lavender and roses in both.
Both books feature excellence in English country gardens. After all, English country gardens are a style and genre of their own, appreciated world wide.
Looking more closely, I’d say that the gardens in Secret Gardens of East Anglia are more experimental and contemporary.
Unlike Monty Don’s new book, Down to Earth, neither book has any ‘How To’ or small garden element in it. They are both for pure enjoyment. And about understanding what drives people to create their gardens.
If you were buying presents, I’d suggest giving The Secret Gardeners to someone who likes gardens (but would probably appreciate another ‘hook’ to the book).
And give The Secret Gardens of East Anglia to someone who loves gardens (or, of course, East Anglia).
But just make sure that you can borrow both.