The Secret Gardeners... and a secret visit to Belcombe Court

The Secret Gardeners book cover

Confession time: I've yet to visit Hauser and Wirth despite living quite close to Somerset. Until that day, I have the next best thing: the garden's story as written by my friend Victoria and photographed in glorious detail by Hugo Rittson Thomas in their latest book, The Secret Gardeners.

Here, we're very much in the world of the arts and the celebrity, a place quite removed from mine. They're notable and successful people with money no object kind of gardens... but what links these gardeners with me is we still have a shared love of gardening. We love our gardens, and we have a desire to make these spaces our own and the best they could possibly be. Stressful lives and the ways a garden or the act of gardening can heal are also explored. Again, this is something that resonates strongly.

So, which of the 25 gardens featured have stayed with me?

Anything to do with the Branson family is a good bet as NAH broke Richard Branson's father's school swimming records. These had stood for 25 years, so it was a big deal when they went and is one of NAH's proudest moments. Now in the care of daughter Holly and her husband, this garden is part of a strong family home.

Staying in Oxfordshire, lovers of the Great British Bake Off will be pleased Victoria was ahead of the curve when Prue Leith's garden was selected to feature a couple of years ago. Once again, I have moongate (called a porthole in the book) and pergola envy.

I already knew of Nick Mason's garden as every year I read about its opening for charity in the local press and think, 'D***, I've missed it again'. Also seen in the book, our local paper always mentions the miniature donkeys too. Now I've seen the garden and its most beautiful swan sculpture, I really must make more of an effort to visit next year.

I loved the quirkiness of Terry Gilliam's garden, and the way Anish Kapoor has used the sculptural qualities of trees. Then there's the theatricality of Cameron Mackintosh & Michael le Poer Trench. All the gardens reflect the usual work of their owners in pleasing ways.

If there's a big take away I have from the book it's this; I need more sculpture in my life.

Many of the gardens featured aren't open to the public, or rarely, so this is a great way of peeping over the fence and visiting these diverse, top notch gardens from the comfort of your armchair.

Entrance courtyard at Belcombe Court

I was delighted to find I'd secretly visited* one of the gardens featured, so now is a good time to share some of my favourite photos of Belcombe Court from three years ago.

This garden is just 10 miles away from Chippenham and usually opens for one day a year in aid of the Red Cross. I hope my photos inspire you to seek out the garden's next opening, as well as buying the book.

The owner may not be a familiar name to you, but Mr Bean probably is; Paul Weiland directed the film. Follow me, and you'll see there's nothing Mr Bean-ish about this garden at all...

* = secret code for I didn't blog about it at the time

Belcombe Court in its garden setting

An early view of the house and garden

Transition from the meadow to the more formal part of the garden

The topiary in the distance marks the start of a more formal area and gives a clue that Arne Maynard designed part of the gardens at Belcombe Court.

A classic double border

The wisteria grown as trees (my favourite form) shows my visit was in the spring.

Picturesque cottage and Anthony Gormley sculpture

As well as the more traditional features found in this type of garden, there are some contemporary ones too. Here we find Anthony Gormley admiring the view.

Pond, grotto and folly

A curved pond, shell grotto and feature folly. In the distance you can just about see the more open land beyond the garden, where sheep may safely graze.

Parkland beyond the garden

And so our quick walk round Belcombe Court comes to an end; you'll find plenty more and quite different views of it in the book. It also gives an idea of the quality of the other 24 gardens featured.

My favourite kind of hedging: all jumbled together

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I also had a sneak preview of some of the Alice in Wonderland statues found in Christopher and Anne Evans' garden, when I found them in their temporary home at Kilver Court last year.

Frances Lincoln's Secret Gardens series is a great way of exploring top quality gardens through great writing and photography. I've been the lucky recipient of review copies of all of them.

The first in the series was Victoria's Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds, which she followed up with Great Gardens of London**. Her writing is partnered with Hugo Rittson Thomas's striking photography for all three of her books.

Barbara added Secret Gardens of East Anglia to the series earlier this year, accompanied by sumptuous photos from my late friend Marcus Harpur. Like today's post, I was able to add my own views of one of the gardens featured in the book; the gorgeous Ulting Wick.

All the books not only reveal the gardens - many of them rarely open to the public - the story of the owners, gardeners and their garden making vision are told too. This is an aspect often lacking in other garden books of similar ilk.

Any of the four books currently in the series (or all of them) would make great presents. I hope more will be added in the future.

** = scroll down quite a bit after taking the link, the review is there, honest.


  1. Thank you for this wonderful review. I have the book on my Christmas wishlist. Keeping my fingers crossed that Santa will be generous.

    1. You are going to love it, Gerhard. The gardens are quite different to yours and Alternative Eden's usual tastes, but I know you'll see their quality. Welcome to Veg Plotting!

  2. Oh another book to look out for in my library VP. Thanks for your review. I'm also hankering after a moongate.

  3. I noticed this book was at a good price in the Book People's catalogue yesterday. (I still get sent this as I ordered books for my son over a decade ago!) Your post has inspired me to order a copy. :)


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