About John

John Shortland

Writer, gardener, countryman, explorer

the last’s a bit of an exaggeration …

John the Writer:  It is as natural for me to write as it is  for me to eat or drink (sometimes I forget to do both when the ink is flowing).  For years I would write – then shuffle the words until satisfied  – then shred it.  The act of writing was enough.  One day I thought that seemed just a tiny bit silly so saved them on the computer and Life in the English Cotswolds was born.  That was in 2009 and to my surprise people like you came along and liked what you saw.  Since then, over two hundred thousand of you have visited, commented and become ‘friends’.  Thank you!

2012 saw the very first Chipping Norton Literary Festival take place with which I have been closely involved since its inception.  It was there that I was approached to write my book, Why Can’t my Garden Look Like That?, published a year later by How To Books, an imprint of Constable & Robinson, part of the Little, Brown group.

Other writing appears from time to time, most recently a piece for Oxfordshire County Council’s waste recycling e-zine.

John the Gardener:

The earliest image of me gardening is one of me as a child of about four using – well that’s too strong a word for it – a rake.  Gardening is in my blood for every member of my family have been keen amateur gardeners (I am the only one doing it for a living).  Whether it was aunts, grandparents or my father, everywhere I went they were in the garden tending flowers and vegetables or in the greenhouse potting up seedlings.  Indoors, around the table, the talk was all about plants.

Despite that, I started off my working life (apart from a short stint on a remote Exmoor farm) in the rag trade – selling men’s and women’s fashions.  All the time, the great outdoors beckoned so it was off to horticultural college as a mature student before becoming Head Gardener to several large, country estates.  That was twenty years ago now and every day I realise that not only did I make a great career move but just how lucky I am.

Another sideways step brought me to where I am now – designing gardens, showing others how to garden and looking after gardens.  And, of course, writing about it.

John the Countryman:

I have lived in the country all my life.  As a child I spent my time exploring the lanes, woodlands and orchards of the Chilterns, that range of glorious, chalk hills cloaked with beech trees.  Each spring they become carpeted with tens of thousands of bluebells.  It was here, as a small boy, that I learnt about the wild plants and animals that share our world, a magical place.

In more recent times I moved to the Cotswolds – only 50 miles away yet a completely different range of hills both geologically and in character. Here, there are wide open views and skyscapes, dry stone walls  and rushing streams and some of the prettiest towns and villages in Britain.  I now live in a tiny stone cottage beside the winding river in the photo above, all tucked way in a secret valley. Bliss.

Horses and dogs play an important part in my life too.  More bliss.

John the Explorer:

The description is a tad exaggerated but I have had my moments.  I guess that spending a night in a hostel for down and outs in the Rocky Mountains (how did I mistake it for a hotel and why didn’t I leave, I often ask myself), being stuck in a blizzard in an Indian reservation at 3 am in the morning in the far north of Canada or getting caught up in an attempted coup in Sudan probably allows me some claim to the title.

Recent years have seen my exploring closer to home, in considerably more comfort and a lot less scary.  Well, in principle, it is.  I spend a lot of time on Exmoor, my spiritual home of over 45 years, and Ireland is another place that I visit frequently.  Strangely, things still don’t always seem to go quite to plan …


4 thoughts on “About John

  1. Thank you for allowing me to visit, albeit it briefly, the cozy beauty of the English Cotswold, on this Texas morning……..I will be in Suffolk at Long Melford in summer of 2014, but hope to follow that family reunion occasion, with a trip to…..Bibury? Snowshill? Bourton? Well, it’s beautiful to dream, and stumbling upon your site this Sunday morning has given me alot of pleasure! Appreciation from Suzanne

    • Hi Suzanne! Many thanks for taking time to send a comment, always appreciated.

      Suffolk is a beautiful county too – make sure you take time to visit those places that John Constable painted like Flatford Mill.

      Bibury is a beautiful village – have you seen a post I wrote about it some time ago? Type Bibury in the search box on here and it will show you lots of photos and info. Snowshill is lovely too – the old manor house is fascinating and there are also the lavender fields to visit. In fact, all of the Cotswold villages are beautiful – I’m very lucky living here!


  2. Hi John, I was interested to come across the records of my great grandfather Hugh Vachell Bradley, which you’d added to Ancestry. Thanks for doing that.

    • Thanks for leaving a comment – it’s always good to know that the research is helping others especially when it’s a ‘lost’ cousin that’s commenting! What an illustrious family we’re descended from – I’m especially proud of Charles Bradley being instrumental in the abolishment of slavery. If there is any more information that you would like do get in touch. Have you seen the photographs of Hugh’s regimental sword which is in a private collection? I think I was probably the first member of the family to have held it in over 100 years.

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