Book Review: Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds

Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds book cover
This isn't a conventional book review as I have to declare an interest. Victoria - one of the authors - is a very good friend of mine, so I've witnessed snippets of this book's birth for nearly 2 years. Not only that, she's generously mentioned me in her Acknowledgements - squeeeeeeee!

When Victoria told me about her commission and the title, I giggled as I thought there are very few gardens in the Cotswolds which are secret. Indeed it's one of the most well-known areas in the world gardens-wise.

The next time we met up I presented her with another book about Cotswold gardens. "Please make sure it's better than this one", I begged her, "this effort is little better than what you can find online".

I needn't have worried, this book is far, far better. Victoria has done her research thoroughly and I've visited just one of the gardens. Most are only open one or two days per year and some not at all, so these are gardens awaiting discovery. There's a useful listing at the back of the book, so I suspect they're poised to become more familiar to many of us this year.

Like the famous gardens such as Hidcote and Barnsley House, these have the characteristic mellow honeyed stone the Cotswolds bestows. Many also have the usual box and yew to give them structure and topiary often features, but there the similarity ends. Victoria and Hugo Rittson-Thomas have cleverly got beneath that familiar veneer and teased out the individuality of each of the 20 gardens featured.

This is partly due to the current makers being featured in most cases - including Hugo and his wife Silka at Walcot House. This is a good move because we not only have the owners as our guide, the thinking behind each garden's incarnation is revealed. We find that many of these are a work in progress, so this approach helps them feel more of a living, developing entity rather than set in aspic.

Victoria's essays are revealing and deftly written, and Hugo's photography is superb. I particularly like the one page pictorial summaries containing both broad views and tiny details. These help to provide a sense of movement through each garden.

Bravo Hugo and Victoria - I look forward to seeing you at the launch!

Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds is due for publication on February 5th 2015 by Frances Lincoln.

NB The Anxious Gardener has a competition for you to win a copy, though you'll need to be quick as the closing date is January 23rd.

If you're too late or unlucky, fear not. I have a special offer for you:

To order Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds at the discounted price of £16.00 including p&p* (RRP: £20.00), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG281. 

*= UK ONLY - Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.


  1. Sounds to be an interesting book rather than the same old thing. I've not visited the blog that you mention so I won't take part in the draw as it always feels wring to visit just to take part in a competition. Pity some gardens are closed to the public and others only opened now and again. Maybe this could be part of a series and your friend can write one about the secret gardens of Yorkshire local to those of us up North

    1. Sue - the next one is already in the pipeline... London! I'm pretty sure others will follow - after all there is a richness of gardens awaiting discovery up north. Do visit the website and enter if this book takes your fancy - you deserve to win as your blog is great! I've pretty much given up with competitions as I started them as a thank you to my readers and commenters. However they are so often 'hijacked' nowadays by people outside of the blogging community and it's so depressing to draw their names out of the hat.

    2. Which is really why I wouldn't enter a comp on a blog that I don't visit. It just doesn't seem fair. I don't get asked to do reviews any more since I wrote a less than enthusiastic one so I don't have to worry too much about competitions!

    3. I knew whilst I was writing my reply that's what you'd say and I applaud you for being so self-restrained. However, I know you're generous with your comments and a thoughtful reader and it seems only fair for my fellow bloggers to spread the love to where it's deserved. As for reviews... I was worried about this one because Victoria is such a good friend...but then I know her writing, so I knew this would be a good read. Hugo's photos are delightful, but then it's fab subject matter and they both live un the area, so it'll have seeped into their pores. As for other reviews, honest ones are the only way we can do them isn't it? If mine is a bad one, I always let the company know first, so they have the opportunity to do something about it. I look at not just the product too e.g. I've fed back loads about the state of packaging I get and the companies involved really value that kind of information.

    4. The review that I didn't give a glowing testimony to was a book and in fairness I did include some positives but I just didn't enthuse. I always warn that any reviews will be honest or what is the point?

    5. Thanks for your review, VP! It's always difficult to review things that friends have done, so if it's any consolation, your review broadly agrees with the one in this month's edition of The English Garden. And I don't know the woman who wrote that review at all!
      I think I might enter The Anxious Gardener's competition. I'm running out of copies to give to people. (Only joking, Sue Garrett!)

  2. It looks like a wonderful book, I'm a huge fan of the Cotswolds (and luckily they're not too far away from me). Some of the gardens and houses there are utterly beautiful. And thank you for the link to Victoria, I used to follow her blogs, but somehow I'd lost her. I happy to be back following her again, she writes so very well.

    1. So glad you've found Victoria again CJ :) She and I started blogging at around the same time and she's been such a wonderful friend who also provides plenty of encouragement re my writing's progress :)

    2. Thanks for the lovely compliment, CJ! Hope to see you at Tales from Awkward Hill.

  3. Looking forward to reading Victoria's long awaited book!

    1. There are plenty of surprises guys! Like the garden where the maker imported tonnes of soil so he could grow acid loving plants!

  4. Now I am even more excited that I pre-ordered the book! Lovely review...I am so glad that blogging led me to you and Victoria. Please, don't put me in the drawing! xoxo

  5. I absolutely love the look and sound of this book and am also pre-ordering it on my side of the pond...

  6. Oh I'm sure that this will be both well written and well informed VP. I'm still resisting book buying but maybe there are exceptions to the rule :)

  7. Hi Victoria, great review and I now wish I had bagged a copy. My partner's family live in Glos and we visit several times a year. I know what you mean by 'outsiders' winning competitions - I'm always delighted when a regular reader wins one of my competitions. But if I can further publicise a book and its authors by widening the net as wide as possible, that's a good thing isn't it? Thanks for the plug! Dave

  8. Now you've whetted my appetite and I was determined to resist buying more gardening books! I haven't searched out Victoria's blog yet but will remedy that - especially as you recommend her writing. Books like this with fab photos also provide inspiration on how to take good photos of gardens. I'd better pop back to David's blog and have a go at his competition. Good review, Michelle! x


Post a comment

I love hearing from you and welcome thoughtful conversations :)

Comments aiming to link back and give credence to commercial websites will be composted!

Your essential reads

Wildflower Wednesday: Alpengarten

Salad Days: Mastering Lettuce

Jack Go To Bed At Noon

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: 'Just Add Cream'

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day: The Best of Summer

From The Editor's Post Bag...

Just Chilling

June Drop

Dessert Apple Jelly: Seasonal Recipe

Weekend Wandering: To the Sunflowers!