If you've ever wanted an inside look at the gardens of creative minds, look no further than The Secret Gardeners: Britain's Creatives Reveal Their Private Sanctuaries (Frances Lincoln, 2017) by garden journalist Victoria Summerley and photographer Hugo Rittson Thomas. The idea behind the book is that creative artists are likely to have creative gardens. And indeed they do.
As Summerly notes in the book's introduction, "All artists, whether they are writers, musicians, actors painters or sculptors, use their experience of life as raw material for their work. The owners in this book have applied the same process to their gardens ... "
Jeremy Irons, while a young actor in London, worked at gardening jobs to supplement his income, so it's not surprising that his garden in Oxfordshire abounds with myriad plants from Annabelle hydrangea and a weeping pear to black cut-leaf elder, roses, and Mexican daisy. Perhaps reflecting his many roles on stage and screen, his garden is not too tidy, although there is a formal herb garden. Irons once told an interviewer that "You can do anything with a garden. You can make it very clipped and very precise, or you can let it be wild and blowsy ... Not only do you see inside other people's souls [when you visit their gardens], but you find your own."
Chef, food writer and Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith gardens with practicality on five acres in Oxfordshire, and, as Summerley writes, "there is a sound, practical reason for everything she does, allied to a sense of design that combines flashes of flamboyancy with attention to detail. There's a large kitchen garden, a terrace that serves as a ha-ha, a dining table that seats up to 24 people and hot-colored blooms that Leith attributes to her childhood in South Africa.
Author Summerley notes that if Andrew Lloyd Weber's garden was a song, "you would probably come away whistling the tune." It includes many traditional English garden features, but also a personal theater, transformed from a 16th century chapel on the property. It now features a stage and seating where Lloyd Weber puts on performances of some of his new works. Not something you'd find in every garden.
With beautiful, bounteous photos by Rittson Thomas, you'll see gardens owned by Sting, The Branson family, Julian Fellowes, and many other artists.
If friends or family are aficionados of Britain and the British, they'd find this book most welcome as a present, and it would be perfect under the Christmas tree.