Book Review: Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds, by Victoria Summerly
Judy and I have been to England just once. We saw some of London, and some of the great gardens nearby: Sissinghurst, Great Dixter, etc. Sadly, we didn’t get to the Cotswolds. home to some of the country’s most beautiful gardens and countryside.
Recently, however, I read Victoria Summerly’s Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds. This book turns out to be a very satisfying substitute if a personal visit to the area is not immediately in the cards.
The gardens are not actually secret. The reader is taken along on visits to 20 private gardens that are open to the public to some limited extent. So a reader can, with adequate planning, visit all or any of them.
These are not humble cottage gardens maintained by avid amateurs (though that’s a good idea for another book). These are gardens of the wealthy (and sometimes moderately famous), staffed with at least one full-time gardener. Generally there are photos of at least one of the owners, and often the head gardener as well.
An enjoyable aspect of this book is how Victoria Summerly shares not just the history of these often venerable gardens, but some of their associated gossip also. For instance, I was very interested to read that Asthall Manor was once home to the highly dramatic Mitford family, appearing in the novels of Nancy Mitford as Alconleigh. Elsewhere, there was the story of the famous landscape designer whose plan had to be discarded – but who afterward claimed the garden as her own design anyhow.
The primary pleasure of this book, however, is in the gardens themselves. Garden lovers will enjoy pouring over the photographs of Hugo Rittson-Thomas and reading the author’s descriptions. I was particularly taken by the herbaceous border and vegetable garden at Dean Manor, the borders full of Delphinium and Campanula at Kingham Hill House, and the rose garden at Westwell Manor.
All the topiary and the yew and boxwood hedges I found less appealing, but were still interesting to see.
If you yearn to visit the Cotswolds but never will, or if you are planning a visit and want to see some notable private gardens, Secrets Gardens of the Cotswolds is a very fine book to own.