Book Review: Secret Gardens of the South East by Barbara Segall

This new book from Barbara Segall is subtitled 'a private tour' and rightly so.  It feels like Barbara is leading us by the hand through this incredible series of gardens.  Some of the gardens I have visited but most I have not.  Several lead to an audible 'ooh' as I add them to that list of 'must see' gardens that is my constant companion.

I have not paid for this book nor have I have been paid to write this review.  My words and opinions are as ever my own.  I know Barbara and consider her to be highly knowledgeable and someone who's advice I listen to.  Barbara, it is fair to say, knows her stuff.

So I did that thing with this book that I don't often do.  I did not start at the beginning and work my way through to the end.  I read the contents list and jumped immediately to the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden.  A garden I confess I had not heard of.   I love a sculpture garden and Barbara's narrative and the photographs by Clive Boursnell convinced me I am missing out on one of the best.  After reading this chapter and of course some associated internet searching (when can I visit, how far from home etc) I settled down to try and read the book in a more linear manner.

I say tried, then I leapt to the Munstead Wood and the Quadrangle chapter, I visited Munstead Wood some years ago and have happy memories of that visit.  This book brought back memories of that day and told me more about the history of the gardens and their restoration.

I then felt like I was cheating on the chapters of gardens I had not visited so went to garden number 1: 87 Albert Street, Whitstable which is the perfect garden to start this book and really is the way you should commence reading.  Why is it so perfect?  It is probably the smallest garden that Barbara visited, it is probably the one most relatable to the spaces that many have.  It is stunning, it is not impossible and a great 'amuse bouche' to take us into this journey.  Did I mention that Barbara knows her stuff?

This book is a tour of some amazing gardens.  Barbara and Clive not only describe and show, there are themes that emerge from many of the chapters.  The Great Storm of 1987 hit the South East hardest and was both devastating to trees and gardens and also opened up opportunities.  The recent lockdown also gave moments for pause, reflection and time to plan areas that the headspace could not be found to do especially in gardens constantly on public view.  Barbara does treat us to a private tour.  I now know I have to find time for trips 'down south' to visit these gardens and Barbara's book will come with me to enhance my visits.

This is a christmas present for your loved ones or yourself that you cannot miss.  If you know you will never visit these gardens then this means you really need this book even more.  In these dark times we continue to live in this book is a spark of joy.  Buy it.

Secret Gardens of the South East by Barbara Segall is published by Frances Lincoln

Take care and be kind.

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