The gardening tourist could have no better companion if visiting Somerset than this wonderful book from Abigail Willis with photographs by Clive Boursnell. It will be the perfect guidebook, providing a comprehensive listing of the most desirable locations, each temptingly described and illustrated and in these days of travel restrictions it will also provide hours of virtual visiting guaranteed to lead to the most irresistible case of itchy feet imaginable. Oh, please, transport me to Somerset now!
Despite the title, many of these gardens are well known – Cothay Manor, East Lambrook Manor, Hestercombe and Iford Manor, for example, while some newer or rejigged gardens already have an international reputation – The Newt in Somerset or Hauser & Wirth Somerset – and this is all to be expected and indeed, the book would be terribly the poorer without them – but there are also lesser known destinations for the enthusiastic gardener, those jewels we all wish to find and to visit and it is these, I feel, which add so greatly to the richness of the book, to its appeal and enjoyment and which would tempt me to head off to Somerset at the earliest possible opportunity. Barley Wood Walled Garden is one of those “lost garden” stories, influenced in its restoration by that of the gardens at Heligan and certainly worth a visit. Batcombe House, where garden designer Libby Russell “took on a project” as they say, and has made a glorious garden which will surely be recognised as an English treasure – another “must-visit”!
The temptation when visiting English gardens is to be drawn to the very large estates, which are all very wonderful and most certainly worth visiting, but gardens on a more domestic scale have an appeal that the larger properties oftentimes lack and I think I would find the likes of Elworthy Cottage, Forest Lodge and Greencombe Garden, along with others in this book, the most enjoyable of all. It is the introduction to such properties which I appreciate most in this book for these are genuinely the “secret” gardens or, more accurately, the gardens I might otherwise not have heard of and might not have visited. While I have been to Somerset previously to visit gardens and have been to the best-known of them, I now know of several others – this book lists twenty – which I would simply love to see, those secret gardens of Somerset!
This style of book is one which the publishers Frances Lincoln have brought to perfection. They seek out knowledgeable gardeners, good writers and excellent photographers and combine their material in a stylishly produced volume which is always a pleasure to read. This book is no exception, another beautiful and useful book, the perfect planning-companion and guidebook for the garden tourist or a most pleasant read for the armchair traveller.
[Secret Gardens of Somerset, Abigail Willis, Photographs by Clive Boursnell, Frances Lincoln, Quarto Group, London, 2020, Hardback, 144 pages, £22, ISBN: 978 0 7112 5222 6]