Sunday 1 November 2015

Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds

On the bright side of being laid up is the opportunity to read. Specifically to read books from the guilt inducing review pile.

Without further ado let me present

Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds.
Text by Victoria Summerly
Photography by Hugo Rittson-Thomas
Published by Frances Lincoln Limited
$22 new on Amazon

The Cotswold's is an area in west-central England. It is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and covers 2,038 square kilometres (787 sq mi). The rolling hills, steep escarpments and small wooded valleys enjoy a temperate climate. A tradition of prosperity has allowed its inhabitants to build splendid houses out of the local honey-coloured limestone. To complement such dwellings magnificent gardens were created by the most famous designers money could buy. Cotswold Tourism lists 26 world renowned gardens, such as Hidcote, open to the public..

The purpose of the book is to take the reader inside twenty Cotswold gardens equally as beautiful but not open to the public. Some have been in families for generations-centuries even, some have been restored or created recently. In all cases Victoria Summerly gives a detailed account of the care, challenges, plans and planting. There is a useful guide to locations at the back of the book.

The owners are profiled and the reasons for supporting these expensive gardens are varied-duty, love, business interests, status symbols or a passion for plants. Gardens surround castles, a zoo, a Raj fantasy and a former monastery. One is used to showcase priceless sculptures, another preserves medieval fish ponds.

My favourite in the book is Abbotswood in Stow on the Wold, created by wealthy plant hunter, Mark Fenwick. He quickly grew bored with conventional garden layout and planted exuberantly. 


Sadly, since the writing of the book, the estate has been put up for sale and recent photographs show signs of neglect. As of this month a rumour says Becks and Posh (soccer star David Beckham and his ex Spice Girl wife, for those of you who have no time for celebrity culture) have purchased it. I hope they takes to gardening.

Enjoy the book for a chance to go beyond some rather fancy gates, to meet some thought provoking characters, to add to your knowledge of the Golden Age of British garden design and see some modern interpretations. A caution-you need to like topiary and statuary, there is an awful lot of it.  

Although the photography was excellent as befits a photographer of HRT's reputation, I was disappointed by its focus on structure rather than plantings and several times a feature, extensively covered in the text, lacked images.


  1. Abbotsford is definitely my style. I do hope they start taking care of it. We moved from a home that we had put a lot of work into. My husband did the house, and I did the yard. We still visit our neighbours across the street form that home, and I always get very upset when I see how destroyed the yard and its gardens are. But, not everyone enjoys gardening.

    1. I hear you Andrea. We stay with our old neighbours at least once a year. I've stopped looking over the fence, too painful.

  2. Planning and planting an English-type garden is something that many Americans aspire to accomplish. They are the best. Of course, they would be on a much smaller scale than the magnificent ones that you have spoken about here.

    1. There are some amazing gardens in the U.S. I'd love to be able to visit some.

  3. The gardens are always so pristine. Beautiful even though they aren't my style. I like the free form look of my natural cliff and forest. I've been reading a lot lately. The nights are getting so long that it encourages settling down with a good book. - Margy

    1. I love putting together my winter reading list. Not done yet mostly because I'm so busy with the new library. Do you stay on the float home all winter?

  4. The fact that they are "secret" gardens makes them sound intriguing. I can't imagine Posh Spice or her husband gardening which is too bad for Abbotswood. The elephants in the first garden you have shown are an unusual site for an English garden in the Cotswolds.

  5. I will have to look for this book especially if I plan a garden trip....or dream about one.