What is most striking about this book is the wonderful number of beautiful gardens there are within the small area of the Cotswolds and that this is matched by glorious photography and delightful text used to present them to us.

Twenty gardens, all within the circle of Cheltenham, Banbury, Oxford, Cirencester and Stroud, are described and I do wish they were not quite as secret as the title indicates. Actually, they are not entirely secret gardens as some are open to the public on a regular basis, others occasionally, perhaps for one or two days each year for the National Gardens Scheme, while others, indeed, are not open at all. Were they all open for, say, one month of the year the Cotswolds would be a terrific location for a garden-visiting holiday. Colesbourne Park (home of the Elwes family and famous for its snowdrops), Bourtoun House, Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens and Sezincote are all open on reasonably regular basis and all would merit a visit.

secret gardens of the cotswolds

However, I am allowing my dreams to take me away from the book but, then, it was this book which lead me to dream in the first place. As soon as you hear “secret garden” you immediately want to get in there and see what it is like just as we are all intrigued by a garden enclosed by a high wall. It is our curiosity, I suppose, to want to see what is usually hidden.

This book gives us a very good peep inside these gardens and the author and photographer were obviously welcomed as the participation of the garden owners has been open and generous and through the author’s interviews with them we are given a clear insight into each garden, the history of each, the inspiration for the design and planting, the successes and tribulations and a general sharing of the happiness of gardening on one’s own patch.

The text is perfectly accompanied and illustrated by Hugo Rittson-Thomas’ photography and the photographs are perfectly arranged to give various insights into each garden – a full page shot to show a striking vista or a full page with a group of shots to create a display board of impressions and the occasional shot for detail and delightful features – only one  flower was given the full page close-up treatment and that was yellow-marked snowdrop named for Carolyn Elwes of Colesbourne Park and, as much as the gardens, that made me wish I were there.

It may not be quite the same as visiting the gardens but this book is perfectly enjoyable for what it is – armchair garden visiting, to be done at leisure and in the comfort of one’s own home. I found it a very enjoyable book, well written and perfectly illustrated.

Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds: A Personal Tour of 20 Private Gardens, Victoria Summerley, photographs by Hugo Rittson-Thomas, Frances Lincoln, London, 2015, Hardback, 143 pages, £20, ISBN: 978 0 7112 3527 4

Paddy Tobin