Ever wanted to nose around the gardens of the stars? Have you wondered what Sting’s back garden looked like? Or wished you could peep into Richard Branson’s Or poke around in Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall’s veggie patch? Well, the good news is that ‘The Secret Gardeners’ by Victoria Summerley does just that. And more good news – I’ve got two copies of this glossy coffee-table book to give away to two lucky winners! Read on to enter the competition below…Today I’m sharing the photos of Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith’s Oxfordshire garden. With dry stone walls, beautiful spaces to eat al fresco and her own island, I think I could be quite happy rambling around Prue’s plot. Here’s an extract from the book and plenty of beautiful garden pics to enjoy!
There were a number of reasons why chef and food writer Prue Leith decided to move to Oxfordshire 40 years ago, but the desire for a bigger, more beautiful garden was not among them. The main aim was to set up a duck farm. At the time, Prue was running her eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant, and one of the most popular items on the menu was duck. She explained: “We used to have to buy so much duck, and it was so expensive that I thought perhaps we could produce our own. So we bought this old rectory plus a few acres of land with that intention in mind, but when we did the sums, we realised that duck is expensive because it costs a lot to produce – you need thousands of ducks to justify the cost of a dry-plucking machine and hand plucking was just not viable.”Prue and her first husband, the late Rayne Kruger, who died in 2002, decided to give up the idea of duck farming and simply enjoyed the rural setting around their beautiful honey-coloured stone house, although they didn’t make a garden in the conventional sense. Rayne wasn’t keen on flowery gardens, apparently. “He preferred grass, water and stone,” recalled Prue. “So the only flowers I had in the garden were rosa mundi [Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’] below the terrace, where he couldn’t see them if he looked out of the window.” This old rose, a red and white striped sport of Rosa gallica var. officinalis, possesses a wonderful classic damask scent, but despite its antique origins, it’s a hardy, easy plant to grow.
There were other flowers on the site, but these were grown, along with vegetables, for the restaurant. Today, that pattern has been reversed. The large walled vegetable garden is now filled with ornamental plants, with pink achilleas in place of herbs and brassicas in the formal parterres, flanked by rows of standard Japanese cedars (Cryptomeria). Prue still grows vegetables but they are protected from birds and other flying pests in fruit cages and cold frames
The five-acre (two-hectare) garden surrounds the house, with the kitchen garden, featuring a round window in the wall, on the east side. The Red Garden is also here, next to the kitchen itself, with herbs growing in pots outside the back door, saving the cook a walk to the kitchen garden. There’s a woodland garden brimming with hostas on this side too.
To the west of the house, a box parterre planted with roses acts as a counterbalance to the kitchen garden, and beyond that there’s a tunnel of ‘Perle d’Azur’ clematis and the rambling white rose ‘Sander’s White’. At the back, you look out over a meadow towards the lake, which Prue and Rayne dug out when their children had learned to swim.The lake is artificial, rather than being fed by a river or stream, and an underground reservoir ensures it never dries up. Both the lake and reservoir fill up during the winter, so that in the summer months, when the levels drop, the lake can be topped up without anyone noticing. The water is also used for the irrigation system that runs through the planted areas. “It works very well in theory,” observed Prue, “but last year the pump broke.”
The garden is now more open than it used to be. Originally, a tall screen of holly and brambles surrounded the property on the western side, but this has now been cleared away. To the east, a massive hedge of Lawson’s cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) has also been drastically cut back. Prue’s second husband, John Playfair, who she married in 2016, is responsible for much of this work. Handy with a chainsaw, he has a very good eye for landscape design, and by raising the crowns of many of the trees he has opened up hitherto unseen vistas. It is a common and understandable impulse to wall yourself off from an ever more stressful and busy world in a town or city, but in the countryside opening up garden boundaries like this can have an unexpected and very positive effect. If your view is of serene meadows and farmland, punctuated by hedgerows and copses, it offers an equally powerful impression of sanctuary as an enclosed garden.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this extract about Prue Leith’s garden and that the photos have inspired your own gardening efforts. I’d love to have stone walls and swathes of scented blooms like this in my own garden one day. And now, on to the giveaway – you can be in with a chance of winning 1 of 2 copies of The Secret Gardeners by Victoria Summerley if you enter my competition via the Rafflecopter widget below. Two lucky winners will be picked at random from all entries once the giveaway has closed and each winner will be sent a copy of this impressive book. Good luck!
Giveaway open to UK residents only. Competition runs from 15th October – 5th November 2017. Two winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter.