England is a great destination for garden lovers with a richness of gardens which guarantees enjoyment for the visitor. It is a very convenient destination for gardening enthusiasts in Ireland – a short ferry journey and the comfort of your own car to travel from garden to garden.
Our preparation for these visits generally begins with the website, Great British Gardens, as it allows one locate gardens on an interactive map making it easier to plan an itinerary with a group of gardens within reasonable distance of each other. We then follow on by reading entries on these gardens in various books and so refine our list and determine our priorities.We discovered last year that this is not always the best approach and future visits will informed by this experience.
Websites, such as Great British Gardens, and the selection of books I have on British gardens are dominated by the larger gardens, the more established and better known gardens, those which are at the top of the “must-see” list for garden tourists and this is an understandable approach – there are many gardens and some selection or screening must be applied as space does not always allow comprehensive listings of gardens.
During a visit to England last May we spotted a notice that Hanham Court, near Bath, had an open day under the National Gardens Scheme – The Yellow Book. This is the garden created by Julian and Isabel Bannerman over a period of almost twenty years – the Bannermanns have a string of outstanding gardens to their credit but, I suppose, their contribution to the Prince of Wales garden at Highgrove might be best known. Such was our delight with this “lesser” garden that we went on to enjoy three other gardens open under the National Gardens Scheme – Biddestone Manor, Allington Grange and Hookshouse Pottery – and we found we had discovered another layer in the richness of English gardens, one we determined should be explored again and again.
Were I to suggest an outing to eastern England I’m sure gardens such as Hyde Hall, The Beth Chatto Gardens and the East Ruston Old Vicarage Gardens would spring immediately to mind and, while they would be excellent places to visit, there is so much more to be discovered and enjoyed. I suppose that sense of discovery adds greatly to visiting the smaller gems of gardens in an area, though I should emphasise that “smaller” is a relative term and only means they are smaller than the grander gardens we visit more often. A recent publication from Frances Lincoln, “Secret Gardens of East Anglia – a Private Tour of 22 Gardens” by Barbara Segall is the perfect guidebook and opens the gates to a selection of beautiful gardens which might otherwise be overlooked.
Given that 22 gardens are covered in the book one might fear that the descriptions could be sparse but each entry gives excellent insight to the owners and their gardens as the author has interviewed each in depth and quotes from them liberally. The text is wonderfully illustrated by Marcus Harpur’s photography with several large photographs and a full page collage of smaller images for each garden. The only drawback is that each garden seems worth a visit and that might not be possible in the normal one week we spend in England. But then, I suppose we could go back again!
This is the book that the garden tourist will adore!
[Secret Gardens of East Anglia – a Private Tour of 22 Gardens, Barbara Segall with photographs from Marcus Harpur, Frances Lincoln, London, 2017, Hardback, 144 pages, £20, ISBN: 978-0-7112-3859-6]