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

Anyone with more than a passing interest in plants or gardens has to admit to being a little bit nosy, don’t they? Look, I’m very happy to hold my hand up here. I mean, who hasn’t stopped in front of someone’s gate to admire their flowers? Or peered over the fence to inspect their neighbours’ borders? Who hasn’t had their interest piqued by an ivy-clad wall that hints at some elusive Eden beyond?

Writer Barbara Segall elevates this kind of horticultural curiosity to a whole new level. Not content with a surreptitious peek into other people’s gardens, she’ll seize you by the hand and pull you through the hedge to have a proper explore, and because she’s Barbara, she’ll have befriended the head gardener and pocketed some cuttings before you’ve even finished fishing the twigs out of your hair.

Following on from her previous book ‘Secret Gardens of East Anglia’, a fascinating tour around the private gardens of her own adopted region of the UK, Barbara’s latest book ‘Secret Gardens of the South East’ takes her further afield, to the hidden wonderlands of Kent, Sussex and Surrey, the counties that typify ‘The Garden of England’.

Each chapter focuses on a specific garden, examining the roles history and geography have played in its inception, and exploring its evolution through the imagination of those who have lived there and the efforts of those who have worked there. There are stories of the people brave enough to take on the stewardship of gardens once belonging to horticultural heavyweights such as Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West, along with those of modern visionaries who have created something remarkable out of more modest spaces. How refreshing it is to see compact, urban gardens, like those at 87 Albert Street in Whitstable, celebrated alongside more majestic estates, such as Arundel Castle.

While Clive Boursnell’s splendid photographs provide plenty of eye-candy for readers simply wishing to daydream during these dark winter days, this is also a book for gardeners hungry for ideas. Those gardening on a shoestring can take heart from the extraordinary grounds at Balmoral Cottage in Kent which were largely created using free seedlings and cuttings gifted to the owners, and eco-conscious gardeners can be inspired by the drought-resistant planting scheme at the Sussex Prairie Garden. The twenty chapters are packed with plant references and design details, and visitor information is included at the back.

With spring on the way and open garden season ahead of us, ‘Secret Gardens of the South East’ by Barbara Segall is the perfect read for those seeking inspiration, motivation or who are simply after a jolly good nose into some of the most glorious private gardens of South East England. It’s well worth a read.

‘Secret Gardens of the South East’ by Barbara Segall was gifted to us for the purposes of review.