the secret gardeners

Review: The Secret Gardeners by Victoria Summerley

Some of the very best gardens I’ve seen have been made by people who are creative in the rest of their lives: artists, photographers, chefs. In The Secret Gardeners, Victoria Summerley explores how people who are successful creators are often also keen gardeners and gives us a glimpse of a secret world far removed from fame.

The Secret Gardeners

Given that good gardens are the result of successfully combining colour, texture, form and perspective, it is hardly surprising that the likes of sculptors and theatre directors should be able to turn their talents to herbaceous borders and parterres.

Yet, this book is much more than the obvious: who imagined Sharon Osbourne, rock star wife and reality TV star, liked nothing better than relaxing in her garden with a little deadheading, or that a love of cooking makes the kitchen garden a favourite place for Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason.

Lavishly illustrated with photographs by Hugo Rittson Thomas, The Secret Gardeners takes us on a tour of the country from the Devon family garden of Kirstie Allsopp and Julian Clary’s Kent cottage garden to Evgeny Lebedev’s London plot, designed with the help of the late Lady Salisbury, and Griff Rhys Jones’ Suffolk garden with its carefully planned vistas.

The Secret Gardeners
Staggered paving disguises a slope in Cath Kidston’s London garden.

Most are not open to the public although some, Glyndebourne, Prue Leith’s Cotswold garden (pictured top) and the Hauser & Wirth gallery for example, are open or have been featured in print.

At each stop, Summerley is as concerned with the story behind the garden’s creation as she is with what is in it; the history of the houses is also covered, including the ownership of Daniel Chadwick’s Gloucestershire home by Dick Whittington and Noel Coward’s former tenure at Julian Clary’s cottage.

The style of the gardens is as wide-ranging as the talents their owners possess. Julian and Emma Fellowes’ Dorset garden is more a wildlife haven than a conventional clipped and preened plot: “You will search in vain for herbaceous borders or regimentally striped lawns,” we are told.

The Secret Gardeners
Sting and Trudie Styler stroll in their garden.

Artist Allen Jones used his self-portrait as a blueprint for laying out his Gloucestershire garden, while Cameron Mackintosh and Michael Le Poer Trench have a suitably theatrical edge to their design with props from several West End hits set among the trees and plants.

Only Jeremy Irons, whose garden is “quintessentially, unequivocally English” has, we are told, ever earned money as a gardener – when he was first starting out in acting – and the book is refreshingly generous in the space it gives the professional gardeners who have helped create and maintain the gardens.

In her introduction, Summerley confesses that “Confronted with a beautiful garden on a lovely sunny day, it is very easy to slip into relaxation mode and wander around in a daydream” and at times she has to force herself to concentrate on the job ahead. We have no such editorial deadlines and can wallow and daydream to our heart’s content.

The Secret Gardeners by Victoria Summerley, photographs by Hugo Rittson Thomas, is published by Frances Lincoln, RRP £30.

Review copy supplied by Frances Lincoln.

Read more of my book reviews here.

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