Book Review: Secret Gardens of East Anglia by Barbara Segall

I am lucky enough to know Barbara Segall the author of this new book, Secret Garden of East Anglia, a private tour of 22 gardens.  When I saw that it was going to be published I knew I had to get hold of a copy and I was very pleased to be sent one by the publisher to review.
The foreword is by Beth Chatto, the doyenne of British gardening (well in my opinion anyway) whose garden is in East Anglia but definitely does not fit the description of secret.  Barbara is also an East Anglia resident and she explains her love for her adopted county and the garden gems it is home to.   Barbara tells us that the chosen gardens characterise the 'regions various styles' and show the owners' passions for their gardens.  I would agree with this, it is a large region and very varied and yet there is something that when you are travelling in the area you recognise as being East Anglian.

I had three main reasons for wanting to read this book, firstly as mentioned above, I know Barbara and I love her writing.  Secondly I used to holiday regularly in East Anglia and I know particularly the north of the county well.  Thirdly it includes a garden I am very fond of, Ulting Wick, when I buy books on gardens I often like there to be at least one garden that I actually know.  This is because I compare my view of the garden with the author's.  If we concur then clearly the author knows that they are talking about, if we disagree; well then I am fascinated to understand their point of view.  So far I have only visited two of the gardens featured in the book, some like East Ruston Old Vicarage and Columbine Hall are already high on my list of gardens I want to visit and now I have read this book, there are several more added.
Ulting Wick (Photo by Marcus Harpur)

As the title says this book covers 22 gardens.   All of the gardens are privately owned and all but one open sometimes to the public.  I like that Barbara gives us some of the history of the gardens and how their owners have gardened them.  Each entry features a photograph of the owners in their own gardens and there is a real sense of pride shining out of all of these photographs.  You can recognise in these faces the love that we gardeners have for our gardens.  No matter what the size of our patch, there is that smile that we have when we look out and think its looking pretty good today.  Barbara cleverly uses the love the owners have for their gardens to be part of the attraction for wanting to visit.
Columbine Hall (Photo by Marcus Harpur) 

The photographs are by Marcus Harpur who very sadly died recently.  This book is a fitting testament to his work and shows his skills at their best. In her introduction Barbara says that his photographs make the gardens 'glow' and this is an apt description.  The use of light and shade in the photographs is a masterclass.  The use of shadows is particularly noticeable and the colour of light.  They really are stunning photographs.
Elton Hall (Photo by Marcus Harpur)

The book contains a handy map to give you an idea as to where the gardens are.  I spent quite a while studying the map and working out a plan of where stay in the area in the best travelling distance to some of the gardens.  There is also information on how to find out when the gardens are open to the public.  I would say I am not sure which one I would wish to visit first but actually the one that I have not visited previously and really caught my eye is number 16 (buy the book to find out which one it is) (see what I did there?......).  

I really enjoyed this book.  It reminded me of days spent on the north Norfolk coast when I was younger, it reminded me of visits I have already made to some of these gardens and it reminded me I still have so many to see.

Secret Gardens of East Anglia is published by Frances Lincoln.


  1. Brilliant Alison! Am currently reading through myself, haven't got to number 16 yet 😊

  2. Definitely need to buy this book!

  3. I totally don't understand this 'Secret Gardens' thing when they're nearly all open and no doubt well visited.Publishers need their heads seeing to sometimes.

    1. I think titles always have to be attention grabbing. For these gardens I think none are always open and most are NGS every now and again. For a lot of people they will be less well known then say, Beth Chatto's - but I take your point.


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