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.

secret cotswolds

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.

Victoria Summerly
Victoria Summerly

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.

25 Comments on “Book Review: Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds, by Victoria Summerly

  1. I have this in my cart in my UK Amazon.com account. Where’d you buy yours? Was the shipping horrendous? I really want this book! I’m heading back to England next year to visit a close friend who lives outside London and I’d love to see a few of these gardens.

  2. I am going to see if our library has a copy. haha I once read a blog post where a person found a lovely private garden but instead of interviewing the gardener who was working outside she knocked on the door and interviewed the owner instead. I thought: that was a missed opportunity.

    • Some of these owners are involved in design and plant selection decisions – but needless to say they don’t do the actual work. The author here talks to both owners and gardeners.

  3. It looks like a very interesting book. I would be especially interested in Asthall Manor. I visited several gardens in the Cotswolds but they were only the most celebrated (Hitcote, Kiftsgate Court and Snowshill Manor – which perhaps was the nicest). Thank you for letting us know about this book.

  4. I don’t think the Cotswolds are on my current travel plans but the book sounds great! The down side is that this type of book gives me a little bit of an inferiority complex 🙂

    • With all that money and a professional staff I have no doubt you could equal any Cotswolds estate! Me too, for that matter.

  5. Sounds interesting. I like that both owners and gardeners were interviewed. Too many times the focus is on the owner and they miss out on the ‘little people’ who do the day to day work.

  6. Thanks for the recommendation. I will look out for this book. I have Tony Russell’ s book, ‘The Cotswolds’ Finest Gardens’ which is also worth reading for anyone visiting the Cotswolds.

  7. Hello Jason, you know I get ever so proud when I see books and reviews like this, which effuse over English gardens. There are pieces of paradise dotted all over this little island and I’m looking forward to the day I can ditch the suit and commute and take an extended horticultural tour around them all!

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