Garden visiting from the armchair; a trio of books, blogs, and Instagram. (2/18)

During these past few weeks I have been rather housebound. So, content with a log fire and the fragrant sprigs of evergreen Sarcococca confusa Sweet Box cut from the border, I have been visiting gardens from the comfort of my armchair.

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I was kindly given The Secret Gardens of East Anglia before Christmas in gratitude of completing my Ninety gardens.  The author and the photographer, both very much experienced in their own fields, delight upon a variety of gardens large and small and demonstrate that gardens are just as much about people as they are about plants.  The Foreward is written by Beth Chatto who says that although she enjoyed welcoming visitors to her garden in Essex she rarely had the time to get out and visit other gardens, a regret since ‘we can all learn from one another’. Barbara Segall entices us into each garden, writing about their history, the influences and style. Her eloquent words are complimented by the beautiful photography of Marcus Harper who captures the atmosphere, colour and sense of the garden and includes a portrait of the owners, which quite simply can say so much.  It is heartbreaking to think that Harper did not live to see the book published; the more reason to get out and explore those that I have yet to visit.


I was most grateful to be recommended this second book by an NGS colleague and when I told my neighbour Rebecca, a nurse not a gardener, that I was reading Head Gardeners she could not understand why on earth I was interested in such a seemingly dull lot of people. Well, don’t for one minute think that is the case. Ambra Edwards reveals what a diverse and interesting group they are, having come in to gardening through completely mixed circumstances and inspired by very different influences. The photography is slightly confusing at first; one wonders for what reason Charlie Hopkinson has captured a certain pose, only for it then to become clear in the writing. Both writer and photographer expose the many angles of the modern Head Gardener, a truly multi-tasking individual. Indeed in the words of the author, they are the unsung heroes.


I have recently joined a local history group and this term we are concentrating on the Stuarts. So my third book The Renaissance Garden in England by Roy Strong was a re-read. Originally published in 1979 it is still the most authoritative book on the gardens of the Tudors and early Stuart period. Roy Strong addresses not the horticultural aspect of these gardens but rather the design and influences, describing them as a lost art form.  The gardens are swept away, and apportioning the blame on the hand of Mr Brown, his dedication reads:


With no gardens to photograph, the book is illustrated with pictures, plans, diagrams, views and engravings which help to evoke the characters and concepts of the great formal gardens of Tudor and Stuart England



As well as writing my own blog I also follow a few others. It was The Anxious Gardener that really inspired me in the first place. David Marsden is a gardener for two large gardens in Sussex, neither of which receive visitors. Feeling they deserved a wider audience he started to write about them which he has done for several years. He has a huge following and I am not surprised because he writes amusingly and his photography is stunning. Read more here:

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Every Saturday morning I receive a garden history lesson from Dr. David Marsh who has been writing fascinating blogs for the Parks and Gardens UK for a few years. His subjects range from the ‘Sweet Pea and its king’, ‘the colour of Carrots’ and more recently posts on Humphry Repton. The piece on Derry and Toms roof garden in Kensington includes some marvellous videos clips. Click on the Parks and Gardens UK website:

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Things come in threes so my third blog is This excellent site is very useful and ……….

was dreamed up to share a love of gardens of all sizes. When visiting a garden anyone can read about what the garden has to offer but what I hope to share is a ‘gardenadvisor’ report – personal findings and snippets that the official websites might not mention.

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I was advised recently that if you are going to participate in Social Media, choose one and do it well. I have never really been keen on Facebook and I tweet very occasionally but this winter I have, along with many other gardeners discovered Instagram. It is a perfect medium for gardeners; quick and easy it is not so much about self-promotion but more about photography. I have my own site ‘the_garden_gate_is_open’ but I particularly enjoy these three:

jane_ann_walton‘ a keen and clever gardener who takes beautiful photographs.

tillyedith‘ a young mum who enjoys plants and lives in Italy.

james_todman who has his own business in Worcestershire specialising in hedging and topiary.

This winter has not been particularly cold  but it seems to have been eternally long. I find it hard to believe that by this time last year I had already visited six gardens opening for the NGS as part of my 90 challenge. My little purchases of snowdrops have come into flower and I have to confess that I think I might becoming a teeny, weeny bit of a galanthophile.

So I am off to visit one of the many snowdrop gardens as part of the Snowdrop  Festival



Sheringham Park

9 thoughts on “Garden visiting from the armchair; a trio of books, blogs, and Instagram. (2/18)

  1. Thank you for recommending my blog again!

    And PS although Roy Strong is still very authoratitive he only deals with the most elite gardens. A much better read for the rest is Paula Henderson’s The Tudor House and Garden [Yale 2005] which despite its name includes a lot from the early 17thc too.


  2. 3 great books! Although I am going to defend Capability Brown (a few years ago I would never have said that!) in that the formal gardens of the Tudors and Stuarts went out of fashion and were being ‘swept’ away several decades before Brown started his career. He merely softened and simplified the fashion for landscape parks, that had previously been promoted by designers such as Kent and Bridgeman.
    Happy blogging Julia 🙂


  3. Funny you should mention the first two books. They are on my list to purchase next. This winter is a doozey here. So cold and lots of inclement weather. We were spoiled with the past few winters with much warmer weather. This winter brought us back to reality of our zone so I have been reading a lot. I am reading SISSINGHURST Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden. This is probably old news to you but I am finding it fascinating since it tells so much about a garden I have read bits and pieces about for years.
    I will be checking out the blogs you recommend too.
    I am so looking forward to the reports about your garden visits.


  4. Yes, hard to believe that we had already visited NGS Open Gardens in Writtle and Stisted by this time last year. With regard to Head Gardeners I would also recommend The Head Gardeners – Forgotten Heroes of Horticulture by Toby Musgrave and Dairy of a Victorian Gardener – William Cresswell and Audley End. Hope your Tilly’s are blooming.


  5. The ‘Secret Gardens of East Anglia’ keeps popping up on my Amazon suggestions, so I am biding my time to buy this. I am halfway through ‘Head Gardeners’ and am loving it to pop in and out of. I was really pleasantly surprised at the diversity of the gardeners. I loved the story of the ex-drug addict.


  6. Dear Julia
    I’ve been brought to your blog by social media – my trip to Brightwater Gardens has been thwarted by the snow, so when I followed them on Twitter, your name came up as a suggestion. I too have been reading many of the same books and blogs, getting my “garden fix” via Instagram over these last few months while I’ve been too busy to get out and about. Hopefully my blog and feeds will add a bit more to your vicarious visiting: and


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