by Helena Attlee, photographs by Alex Ramsay

Publisher: Frances Lincoln (July 2011)
ISBN 978-0711231344


This book starts in Scotland: Crarae, with its fine collection of rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias and conifers, and Crathes Castle, with its magnificent borders, are what I expected. Then I turned the page to The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (unfortunately only open on one day a year) and was wowed by the stunning photographs of this ‘exciting, intellectually demanding and aesthetically challenging’ garden.

Garden historian Helena Attlee has chosen 20 ‘Great Gardens of Britain’. Most of them are the usual favourites including Levens Hall, Stourhead, Hidcote, Kew Gardens and Sissinghurst, with Bodnant and Powis Castle in Wales, and Mount Stewart, with its strange menagerie of stone animals, in Northern Ireland. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are represented by Tresco and The Eden Project amazing as the latter is, I’m not sure I’d classify it as a garden but Attlee defends its inclusion. Other newer gardens like East Ruston Old Vicarage, Alnwick, Beth Chatto Gardens and Scampston unknown to me with its perennial meadow as well as its Capability Brown landscape, widen the range of styles and periods.

Each garden is superbly illustrated with Alex Ramsay’s large colour photographs. Accompanying these are engaging, fairly long, accounts which cover the histories and descriptions of the gardens and their trees, plants and features throughout the seasons.  Little nuggets capture the spirit of the gardens and entice you to visit. Thus, at Crarae:  ‘there are otters in the burn and red squirrels in the woods. Sit still, and a deer may trot out of the trees, pause to consider you, and trot quietly on’; and at Great Dixter: ‘early July and you will find the party in full swing. everything is a little loucher and less disciplined than it might have been earlier in the year, and the atmosphere is relaxed and festive’.

Phone numbers and websites are given for access to opening times and visitor information, and an index covers the gardens, people involved with them, and the plants.

Shirley A. Barnes