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.