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Book Review: Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds

Secret Gardens of CotswoldsWritten by Victoria Summerley, Photographs by Hugo Rittson-Thomas, Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds: A Personal Tour of 20 Private Gardens, (London: Frances Lincoln, 2015) £20.00

From cloud pruned box enclosing formal gardens and borders  to “wild” gardens and hanging woods, all aspects of the grand Cotswold garden are here to be admired and enjoyed in this beautiful book, describing  gardens both known and unknown to the garden visiting public.  The book offers readers a personal tour of twenty of the most delightful private gardens in the Cotswolds, fourteen of which regularly open to the public under the National Gardens Scheme, whilst the others tantalisingly retain the secret alluded to in the title.  As Victoria Summerley  concedes in her introduction, it would indeed be frustrating for readers if they knew that they would never have an opportunity of visiting any of the gardens so temptingly described.  In addition to satisfying her curiosity, which the author readily acknowledges, she is anxious to record gardens such as Abbotswood, lest the details of their design become lost to future generations.  The text is accompanied by Hugo Rittson-Thomas’s evocative photographs of all the gardens at their peak and of wider views of their glorious surroundings.

Victoria Summerley quotes J. Arthur Gibbs’ apposite comment, “What a charm there is in an old-fashioned English garden” and most of the gardens she describes so eloquently do indeed offer that combination of  exuberant  borders, elegant parterres and water features with perfect lawns and spectacular trees.  She frequently provides some detail of the planting, including the Latin names.  Naturally the names of many revered garden designers are mentioned in relation to particular gardens;  Rupert Golby, Mary Keen and Rosemary Verey at Kingham Hill House and Christopher Masson, with Humphry Repton before him, at Sarsdon.  Emma Keswick’s own garden at Rockcliffe is featured, as is Anthea Gibson’s garden at Westwell Manor.  Brenda Colvin advised the young Hal Moggridge not to become involved at Upton Wold unless the new owners proposed to retain the vista of fields and woodland seen from the south-east lawn.  Fortunately they did!  Many of the current or recently retired head gardeners also have a voice in this book, which is just as it should be.  Bourton House, Colesbourne Park and the Cotswold Wildlife Park are amongst the less secret of the gardens included in the book.

This delightful combination of informative text with beautiful images which conjure up each garden to perfection, is the ideal companion for a chilly February afternoon, or indeed a lazy summer afternoon spent planning the next inspiring garden visit.  A detailed list of garden opening information at the back of the book provides the reader with all the information necessary to plan for a rewarding tour of Cotswold gardens this summer.

Elise Forbes, Gloucestershire Garden & Landscape Trust