Monday, 12 November 2012

'My Secret Garden'



Some time ago whilst browsing the forthcoming new arrivals on our local library website my eyes were drawn to Alan Titchmarsh's latest book 'My Secret Garden'. I clicked the magical place a hold on this book button and before long a letter arrived advising me that the book was ready for collection. I have just read this volume and here for what it's worth is my two pen'north :

The book comes in at 192 pages, of which some there are some 90 full page photos plus many other half and quarter page photos, so it's is very much photo heavy and text light. Having said the photos are of an extremely high standard throughout and are in my opinion the best feature of the book. The photos are all the work of award winning photographer Jonathan Buckley, who has collaborated with other garden writers including Christopher Lloyd, Carol Klein and Sarah Raven and whose work has also featured in various magazines and newspapers.  

The book itself is described by the author as "a personal tour of my own private plot". He moved from 'Barleywood' to the plot in question in 2002. Unlike 'Barleywood' which he shared with the nation, through the television programme 'Gardener's World', his new garden is strictly private - television cameras have not ventured in and the garden does not open to the public. Yet Alan says "not letting see what we have created is rather like an actor learning a part and then performing without an audience - the experience is meant to be shared ; so are gardens". Hence he struck a deal with his wife that Jonathan Buckley would record the progress of the new garden that he was creating and that it would be shared by way of a book. Alan writes that "It will give you an idea of my taste and predilections, my whims and fancies as well as being a soapbox for me to expound a modest amount of my garden philosophy'.

The book follows the progress of the garden as the year unfolds. It is divided into seasonal headings under which the book focuses on distinct areas of the garden eg the drive, the meadow, the greenhouse, the west garden, the south terrace and the dolphin pond etc. Most of these areas are revisited throughout the year. The book also includes extracts which reflect on prominent seasonal planting.There is a plan of the garden at the back which helps put it all into context. On perusing this though I was disappointed that the veggie beds did not feature in the book at all as far as I can see and was left wondering why. There is an index at the back where references to specific plants and people mentioned in the book are listed with appropriate page numbers.

So my overall impressions of the book? I sadly found this book left me wanting. I usually scribble away when reading gardening books jotting down names of plants, ideas for planting combinations and perhaps suggestions for future reading . I sometimes copy sentences or paragraphs, that have made me stop in my tracks and linger, where the beauty of the writing is such that I know that I would like to return to the sentence or paragraph in the future. Other scribbling down the name of a rose and a dahlia that took my eye my notepad stayed unopened.

I would have liked to have seen detailed descriptions or diagrams of planting combinations but the book does not contain these. Sometimes there were tantalising hints. In one instance Alan mentions an area where he has planted a mixture of grasses to 'create a long and feathery ribbon that allows the garden to fray into the landscape. In late summer and autumn this grassy ribbon comes into its own when the feathery plumes turn to light catching silver and gold". Now I would like to know what grasses Alan has used but no names are mentioned - instead he names grasses to avoid, which to me is a wasted opportunity. Again a photo of a purple and gold border has a teasing caption naming the varieties of some of its occupants but not all of them.

There were several occasions when I was mildly irritated by references to expensive equipment, pots and statues etc. which he uses or which feature in the garden - maybe a touch of the green - eyed monster within me?

Call me cynical but I have a feeling that although the photos were taken over seven years, I think that the book might have been rushed to meet a publication date geared very much to the Christmas market. The recommended retail price is £25 although of course it can be purchased at a cheaper price if you look round. However although I will not be buying a copy for my bookshelf or asking Santa for a copy, it made for a pleasant enough quick read on a dark autumnal evening and has certainly answered my curiosity about what Alan's new garden looks like.

17 comments:

  1. Is the cover photo IN his new garden? He has topiary in terracotta pots big enough to use as a garden bench?!

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    1. Hi Diana - the photo indeed does feature a part of Alan's new garden - he does look most comfy indeed there perched on the rim.

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  2. I'm afraid AT isn't one of my favourite gardeners I can't quite put my finger on why but I won't be buying this book any time soon.

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    1. He is not my all time favourite tv gardener Elaine but I was tempted to read the book when it started at me from the cyber shelves of the library :)

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  3. What does his garden look like? I was dubious about this book as I assumed it was another 'churn' them out especially with xmas in mind.

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    1. I'm glad that I'm not alone in being a tad cynical Rob - the publication date was very much geared to the festive season. Hard to say what his garden looked like but overall quite traditional I would say. A beautiful borrowed landscape with trees and church spire, a meadow that I would give my eye teeth for, formal areas with topiary, a fantastic green house etc. Some of it reminded me of my visit to the garden at Highgrove.

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  4. Thanks for the review. As you say, it sounds ok for a quick read, or a flick through the photos, but I shan't put it on my Christmas list. It sounds like one to look out for in the library.

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    1. You are welcome Jo though but please bear in mind that it's just my opinion. Would not want to put anybody off but maybe worth a peek at first unless you are a great fan of Mr T.

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  5. I'm so glad you posted about this book! Thanks for the honest opinion - I was considering it for my Mum for Christmas, but am a little wary since I was also disappointed with a past book of his.(Can't remember which one - I believe he churns out at least one a year!)It sounds like another coffee table book out for Christmas, and I agree that the price is a bit steep.

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    1. Thanks Cathy - I hope that I was honest although I perhaps came over on the negative side. It's just my thoughts though after reading the book. You can get it a cheaper price if you shop around and your mum might enjoy it if she's a big fan.

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  6. It's too bad that that the wonderful photos don't have all of the plants identified. That's very important, as I like to make note of plants and combinations I like, and it lowers the usefulness if you don't know what they are. You could get a general idea of colours, textures and landscaping ideas from pictures, but not the specifics without labels

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  7. As the price on line is only £14. 25, it is already on my Christmas list ! I have read quite a few reviews and am happy for someone to buy it for me to indulge in over Christmas! All I want from it is to see his garden, not to use as a reference book for how to plant my own garden, I have other books for that.

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    1. A good point Pauline and the book certainly does give you the opportunity to see Alan's garden in detail. Hope that Santa delivers :)

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  8. Hi Anna, Great minds think alike ;) It's interesting to read your ideas about the book. I think the problem was that they weren't sure what the book was meant to be. It had the photos for coffee table criteria but possibly not enough for it to be completely that. I completely agree with the bit about the veg garden. It was strange wasn't it that we didn't get to see it up close?

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    1. Yes WW - I thought that there was a bit of an identity crisis throughout and a most abrupt ending. I was also disappointed not to see his veg patch and how it fitted into the garden.

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  9. Hi Anna, I don't usually enjoy reading book reviews, but I did enjoy this one, very much, which is ironic since I am never going to buy the book! I have to admit that I have rather gone off AT. The tendency to use expensive pots, features, tools, the ridiculous stance on peat, the general cheesiness. The one thing I did still like was the way he could pull off some great planting combinations, but there are few things more frustrating that shots of borders you really like the look of without any information about what plants have been used...

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    1. Thanks for your reply Janet. Glad that you enjoyed the review. Sadly AT seems to have strayed from his roots somewhat but he does come up with some lovely planting ideas. Shame that the book did not focus on them more closely :(

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All your comments are much appreciated and treasured. I wil try to reply to everyone who leaves a comment, but it may take me a few days, especially when I start spending more time in the garden and at the lottie. I know that you will understand :) I am sure that I will also visit your blog if I have not already done so. If you have any specific questions I will either reply to them here or you can email me at : thegreentapestry@gmail.com

Namasté

- Anna.