gardens of east anglia

Review: Secret Gardens of East Anglia by Barbara Segall

It’s always surprised me how little known East Anglia is. As a student, I got tired of explaining the location of Norfolk when asked where I came from, resorting to ‘It’s the hump on the map.’ Even today, I frequently meet people who have never visited. They’re missing an area of sometimes stark beauty with open skies, long views and, as Barbara Segall reveals in Secret Gardens of East Anglia, inspiring horticulture.

secret gardens of east anglia

Seeking prove that just because East Anglia is flat it isn’t dull, the award-winning garden writer and horticulturalist illustrates just how diverse the gardens of this region are with a tour of 22 privately owned plots drawn from Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire.

The range is extensive not only in scale – Pensthorpe Natural Park covers 120 hectares (300 acres) whereas 38 Norfolk Terrace has a garden that measures just 8 by 4 metres (26 by 13 feet) – but also in style from the flower sparse garden at Silverstone Farm to the colour rich seasonal planting at Ulting Wick where up to 10,000 tulips are planted annually.

Secret Gardens of East Anglia
Tulips are a feature of Ulting Wick.

Wood Farm is known particularly for its stunning wild flower meadow, which has taken nearly 12 years to create. In contrast, Hunworth Hall is the epitome of formality with a mix of topiary, water and shaped hedges inspired by the Anglo Dutch style of gardens such as Gloucestershire’s Westbury Court Garden. Elton Hall (pictured top) sets modern sculpture against old architecture.

Along the way, we discover some of the problems garden owners have had to overcome from unsightly pylons to a ‘Berlin Wall’ of Leyland cypress and even a moat.

Some never intended to make much of a garden: Peter and Denny Swete moved to Tinkers Green Farm in order to downsize their garden but soon bought more land and now cultivate around two hectares (five acres) that include a decorative vegetable garden and colour coordinated borders.

gardens of east anglia
Barbara Segall picture by Marcus Harpur

While the title, Secret Gardens of East Anglia, suggests these are unknown plots, some do have a public profile and attract hundreds of visitors a year. The ‘secret’ is instead the story behind each garden’s creation from the Christmas Day phone call that led to Piet Oudolf designing for Pensthorpe to the way Barnards Farm was designed largely from the air.

Bringing this private tour to life are beautiful photographs by the late Marcus Harpur who sadly died before publication of the book. Often, they show the gardens in different seasons giving a comprehensive overview of what there is to see.

Yet, as plantswoman Beth Chatto says in her foreword: “It is only by walking in a garden . . .  that you can really appreciate the picture that has been created there.” Secret Gardens of East Anglia is an invitation to visit and to do just that.

Secret Gardens of East Anglia by Barbara Segall, photographs by Marcus Harpur, is published by Frances Lincoln, priced at £20 RRP. Buy now (If you buy via the link, I get a small fee. The price you pay is not affected.)

Review copy supplied by Frances Lincoln.

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