Book Review — The English Country House Garden

The English Country House Garden by George Plumptre is a pictorial collection of the best English country gardens. Plumptre is an English author, journalist, and expert on gardening, formerly gardening correspondent for The Times, and since 2011, chief executive of the National Gardens Scheme.

I don’t know much about country gardens. I was born and raised in the city and now living in the small yards of the suburbs. Gardening to me is more about tomatoes and peppers than about flowers. I have, however, visited and enjoyed botanical gardens. My interest in this book stems mainly from Vita Sackville-West the author and social rebel that settled down and became a world-class gardener. Her Sissinghurst Castle Garden is now part of the British National Trust. The chance to see more of this garden is the main reason I chose to read this book.

Sissinghurst is the second garden covered and one of the three essential gardens along with Hidcote in Gloucestershire and Great Dixter in East Sussex. Country gardens were an escape from the city and offered a retreat of sorts. The gardens typically are made of rooms with a central space and enclosed with plants and flowers. Paths separated Some of the rooms and paths appear quite chaotic when caught between seasons. Those rooms are not meant to be static and are planted to change with the season. Still, other gardens concentrate on open space and green like a French garden. Rousham House and Goodnestone Park are excellent examples of a cultivated open area with a sense of peace and freedom. Perhaps the most exciting gardens are those of Lullingstone Castle and Charleston. Here the gardens seem to overrun the man-made structures it has a very natural feel of nature reclaiming the land. The plants, however, are not the common weeds or invasive plants that reflect the beauty of nature.

English Country House Gardens is a richly illustrated book with detailed descriptions and histories of each of the two dozen gardens. The peace and tranquility of these gardens are expertly captured in the pages of this book. If one can’t visit the gardens, this is your best opportunity.

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