Read This: Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds

Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds

For an area so small, at least by Texas standards — only 790 square miles — the Cotswolds region of southern England is home to an astonishing number of enormous manors and elaborate gardens, each worthy of an episode of Downton Abbey.

In Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds: A Personal Tour of 20 Private Gardens by Cotswolds resident Victoria Summerley, with photographs by Hugo Rittson-Thomas, you get an insider’s view of 20 estate gardens, at least one still owned by descendants of the first owners (from the year 1600!), others rehabbed by new owners interested in bringing history back to life.

And what a lot of history there is. Many of these gardens — or at least the houses — are a couple hundred years old or more.


The disruptions of World War II caused many of these properties to fall into disrepair, and as new owners have focused their attention and wealth to restore them, the expenses and concerns of the modern era mean that the gardens are maintained differently than in years past. As the author points out, where a dozen gardeners might once have been employed, now two or three must suffice. (And oh my, they must be kept busy.) Sustainability and green-gardening practices are also more valued by today’s owners, notes Summerley.


While I’ve never been to the Cotswolds, I’ve had the pleasure of touring American gardens with the author, who’s a regular at the annual Garden Bloggers Fling. A retired newspaper editor and a charming tour companion, Victoria is a keen gardener herself and blogs about her own garden at Tales from Awkward Hill.


Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds is an enjoyable read for anyone fantasizing about a garden tour of England (me!) or who loves the romance of gardens cascading with roses and edged in box or yew. Rittson-Thomas’s gorgeous, evocative photos capture many of the scenes described so well by the author. And even though these gardens are stratospherically out of reach of the ordinary person, there are many design lessons to be learned by perusing the photos, such as the power of creating sight lines, focal points, and garden “rooms” and making the most of borrowed views.


The “secret gardens” aspect of the title may have you conjuring Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. However, these aren’t walled, hidden gardens like Mary Lennox unlocked but rather private gardens open to the public seasonally, or perhaps just once or twice a year. Six of the 20 gardens are not open to the public at all, and so in that sense they are certainly secret.

However secret or open they may be, it’s a treat to be walked through these magnificent gardens by an engaging local writer with a sharp eye for design, and to learn about the passions that fuel the gardens’ current caretakers.

Photographs copyright © Hugo Rittson-Thomas 2015

Disclosure: Quarto Publishing Group USA sent me a copy of Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

posted in Books, Design

Lawn Gone! giveaway: And the winners are…

To make a party of my new book announcementThe Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water (coming spring 2016; follow on FB) — I’ve been running a giveaway of three copies of my book Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard.

Out of 110 entries, I’ve just drawn the three winners, selected by a random number generator:
#73 – Cityslipper
#56 – Candice
#55 – Brenda Kula

Congratulations, y’all! I’ll email you today to get your addresses. To everyone who commented, thank you for sharing your favorite water-saving tips! It’s heartening to see that so many people in all kinds of climates are conscious of their water use and interested in conserving.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Pretty goods at Austin nurseries


By Monday morning, which was my deadline for turning in my new book manuscript, I hadn’t showered in three days, changed out of my sweats in two, or slept more than 4 hours a night for about a week, give or take a few coma-like naps. Yesterday, after two nights of good sleep, multiple showers, and a morning appointment at the hair salon, I felt as spiffy as a new-shined penny. With a few hours to kill before school pickup, I hit a couple nurseries I’d hadn’t visited in a while.

And I saw some pretty things. Like this vignette of potted succulents and flax lily at The Natural Gardener.


And this terracotta tower of blooming annuals.


And this fence detail. Love! It’s just a forked cedar branch tucked inside a cedar and corrugated metal frame, with three metal birds attached, but isn’t it sweet? I think the silhouetted birds are cedar waxwings.


I’m going to copy at least the branch and bird part. I went into the shop and bought three wrens to keep company with the Carolina wrens in my garden. A project for a rainy day.


While in the shop I had to check the bookshelf. Yep, there’s Lawn Gone! Thanks for keeping it in stock, Natural Gardener. By the way, if you’re a member of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (and you should be. Hello! Free reciprocal admission to botanical gardens around the country), all through February you can show your membership card at the Natural Gardener to get 20% off one native Texas tree. Nice! (The Wildflower Center’s offering many other discounts for members at retailers around town this month, so be sure to check the link.)


I also popped over to The Great Outdoors, where a pair of terracotta lamp jars caught my eye. Not cheap at $260-something apiece, but so pretty.


They remind me of these pierced terracotta lanterns I admired in the garden of Jennifer and Fred Myers.


The Great Outdoors has long had a green roof over their gift shop, but currently it’s planted with purple pansies — and one rather large softleaf yucca. Cheery!


And yes, they have quite a few copies too. Thanks, TGO!

So have you been trolling the nurseries yet, eager for spring? Or if you live where it’s snowy, are you perusing plant catalogs? I hope, at the least, that you’ve showered in the last couple days.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.