Perhaps the most famous gardener in the UK over the last two decades, Alan Titchmarsh was used to sharing his own garden with the public. For 6 years, as host of the BBC’s Gardener’s World, Alan allowed the viewers into his garden known as Barleywood. Then, in 2002, he left the programme and his home and garden of over 20 years. His latest book, My Secret Garden, is the story of the new garden he has created over the last decade. A space, until now that has not been shown to the public.
I was looking forward to receiving this book. I used to avidly watch him on his BBC gardening programmes, even though I had no garden of my own at the time and I’ll often refer back to his gardening books for ideas and advice now I do have a garden. And, to be honest, I’m quite nosey so the idea of being able to see the garden he has created appealed to me.
It’s quite a hard book to pin down. There are lovely photographs by Jonathan Buckley showing the garden in all its glory which gives it the feel of a ‘coffee table’ book but there is also text from Alan as he talks you around the garden. This is a book about the raison d’etre of his own personal garden. He avails us with the thoughts behind his design ideas and his planting choices.
I don’t think I’ve read a book like this before. It is described as a gardening memoir. I’m not sure that memoir is the right word but then I’m not sure what is. I did enjoy hearing the reasons behind the ultimate look of the garden and where his inspiration came from. He shares his triumphs and disasters and doesn’t feel the need to hide elements that haven’t worked so well, for instance the use of box and the subsequent blight attack. It makes those of us with less experience feel better to know that someone as knowledgeable as Mr. T can still make mistakes.
I liked the photographs taken from the same angles throughout the seasons. These particularly highlighted the value of evergreens and structure in the garden. And, whilst the book is not so much about passing on gardening expertise, I did think it was possible to take elements away from the book to possibly use in my own garden. Certainly by studying the photographs you could take inspiration for planting combinations.
If you like cutting edge design this won’t be the book for you but then Alan is probably not on your radar anyway. The garden surrounds a stunning Georgian house and the garden he has created is classical in style but there is a relaxedness about the space that came across in the photographs. It’s certainly a garden I would like to spend time in. There are elements of the garden that I loved, the topiary lining the terrace, for instance, and his stunning greenhouse but there were other aspects that were less to my taste such as the Union Jack flying from a flag pole. However, I like the fact that he doesn’t feel the need to hide these from the ‘design police’, this is after all his own garden.
I would have liked a few ‘before’ shots of the garden showing what it was like when he first moved there, to give the creation of the new space some context and I was disappointed there weren’t any pictures of the vegetable garden. It was a shame this area wasn’t given any coverage.
If you’re a fan of Alan’s then you’ll love this book. It’s interesting to read about the formation of a garden and the reasons behind it. So many gardens seem to evolve quite haphazardly over time or are created in one fell swoop by a design team. It was good to read about the problems he encountered with his new garden. It wasn’t a blank canvas as so many gardens aren’t and yet this seems to be only rarely touched on in features about gardens. Having someone describe their garden is a interesting idea. It’s quite easy to pick at someone’s personal taste but I wonder how many gardens would stand up to such scrutiny. I think it’ll make me question ideas I have about my own garden in future and the plans I have for it.
Alan’s book is available to buy now from Amazon and all good independent bookshops.
Thanks to Claire at Ebury Publishing.