The Hidcote manner
Despite being married to a garden designer, and living in a house with a garden that in effect showcases her work, I never had much time for gardening over the last 40 years of working at my own job. If there’s one thing a garden needs more than sunshine and rain, it’s time. Now, after giving up full-time work, I finally have the time to enjoy gardening, and gardens too.
Time was something Lawrence Johnston seems to have had plenty of, and money too, coming from a wealthy American family. He devoted both to creating a magnificent garden at Hidcote Manor, on the edge of the Cotswolds, in the first half of the last century, and to scouring the word for rare plants to fill it. The garden is now owned by the National Trust. Seeing it for the first time this week, it’s a constantly surprising mix of intimate areas and grand vistas. Johnston was one of the pioneers of the idea of a garden as a series of ‘rooms’, separated by hedges and walls. So you move on from one area to the next, through gaps or gates, always seeing something different, and never quite knowing what might be on the other side of the next hedge. It could be a closely hedged-in pond, or a small garden dedicated to white-flowered plants, or it could be a grand alleyway flanked by tall yew hedges.
That concept could easily make the garden fragmented, but here it’s tied together by carefully lined up views, that reveal hints of the structure of the garden, without ever giving it all away. There are no natural views out over the surrounding landscape, so Johnston instead created internal views. Views across rising land are focused on wrought-iron gates in the distance, silhouetted against the sky, like a view of the gates of heaven. He wasn’t put off either from creating a wonderful stream garden, one of my favourite bits, by the fact that the stream itself is a piddling little thing. There’s hardly enough water in it to do more than trickle down, but it still becomes the centrepiece of a long winding stretch and spreads into little pools and waterfalls. Inspiring really, as we probably have more water in the springs running through our property than Hidcote does. I may even have the time now, so all we need is the resources of a rich American – or the National Trust.