Top critical review
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Nice book but some glaring omissions
on 3 February 2013
On first sight this is a well-presented book. It's clearly laid out with sections for different areas of the country which are then subdivided by county. This makes it easy to find gardens in the areas you want. The entries are generally quite clear and informative with info on size, location, access and a few paragraphs describing the garden, as well as contact info for further details. There are some good photographs too and a few general info sections on various topics such as follies, mazes, etc.
It does contain a good selection of gardens, but some of the choices are a little curious and there are some important gardens I feel should have been included. Examples of major omissions are the Eden Project, Furzey Gardens in Hampshire and Regents Park and Capel Manor in London.
Obviously that's just my opinion (though who wouldn't be amazed by the Eden Project?), except that some of the choices for inclusion are gardens only open for a few days a year under the National Gardens Scheme or open only to pre-booked groups, so realistically these are only going to be accessible to a minority of readers. I think maybe the problem is that this book tries to do too many things in too little space. It's trying to give a good selection of well-known, easily accessible gardens which anyone would enjoy, as well as those more obscure gardens which might only be visited by someone with a more specialist interest or someone who lives close enough to visit on a limited number of open days. I'm not saying I don't want to know about those, just that I am not sure this works in a book limited to 500 or so entries, and I ended up feeling that it doesn't really cover either type of garden adequately. To give a couple of examples, if I was on a visit to the North East it tells me about the Garden Cottage in Morpeth, only open for NGS and by appointment, but no mention of Washington Old Hall or Seaton Delaval Hall. Likewise for Wiltshire, no mention of Avebury Manor, but 10 of the gardens listed have very limited opening conditions.
I couldn't find any mention in the book of who had chosen the gardens for inclusion or written the reviews. Perhaps if I had a feel for the personality behind the book, I might find it easier to forgive the quirky choices! But I feel that when a book is presented as Readers Digest guide, I would assume that it's a general tourist book, so is going to give me a fairly comprehensive idea of what to see in what part of the country.
Having said all that, I still think there is a lot to like about this book, but I wouldn't recommend it as a stand alone gardens guide, but will use it alongside one or two others to ensure that I really do get to see the best gardens in any region I visit.