Secret Gardens of East Anglia

Extract from Secret Gardens of East Anglia by Barbara Segall, published by Frances Lincoln, an imprint of The Quarto Group.

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The whole of East Anglia is a rather secret, unsung place, off most people’s beaten track. I have come to know it well since I moved here in 1986, not least because my garden-writing life has taken me to gardens great and small, private and public, across the counties of Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. I fell instantly under the spell of this magical region and its idyllic landscapes, the spirit of which is captured so remarkably in the paintings of Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and John Constable (1776-1837). 

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The four counties have their individual charms, yet are sometimes dismissed as flat and therefore possibly a little dull. In fact, the wide horizons and huge skies, the light, the sea, the farmlands and gently undulating countryside combine to provide a rich background for garden-making. Visitors to the region can find every sort of garden inspiration here, be it bravura herbaceous borders, tongue-in-cheek topiary, sensitively sited artworks, ornamental kitchen gardens, romantic wildflower meadows or lovingly crafted detailing.

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East Anglia has a great tradition of creative horticulturists, whose skill and artistry in planting their own gardens resonates in many others in the region. These influential figures include the painter and iris enthusiast Sir Cedric Morris, who made a garden at Benton End, in Suffolk, after settling there in 1938; legendary nurseryman, the late Alan Bloom (founder of Blooms of Bressingham, Norfolk) and his son Adrian Bloom; and, of course, plantswoman Beth Chatto, who has shown us how to use plants that do well in particular environments.

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In East Anglian counties this includes summer droughts, windswept locations, dry sandy soils, or, just as problematic, clay soils that crack in summer then become muddy impasses in winter. Each garden in this book is an example not only of how to meet the physical challenges a site presents, but how to turn them to advantage. In these pages you will also find the ingenious ways in which garden owners have responded to various design challenges, ranging from tiny domestic spaces to grand, historic settings. Some have created a garden from scratch. Several have started small, then been driven by their gardening ambitions to expand into the surrounding land.

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Secret Gardens of East Anglia by Barbara Segall

Photography by Marcus Harpur.

Published by Frances Lincoln, an imprint of The Quarto Group.

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