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

8 Responses

  1. Victoria says:

    What a lovely review! Thank you so much, Pam. Any time you want to come over and have a personal tour of the Cotswolds, I’ll be here waiting for you xx

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have been tempted to purchase this book when reading the reviews. This may cinch the deal.

  3. Jean says:

    I’m still poring over the book, savoring one garden at a time. I must remember to bring my copy to Fling for Victoria to autograph. And I can attest that Victoria is a great garden tour guide!

  4. A wonderful review. You give away just enough to want more. Charlotte Weychan mentioned this book in a blog and I had to get it straight away. It is a brilliant book and oh how I wish I could go visit these gardens. The Cotswolds are so lovely, I had the good fortune to have had friends that lived in Warwick when I lived in England. Perhaps we can do a fling in there : ) Happy spring!

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