May 21st, 2006
Hidcote Manor Garden
2006-05-21. The rain meant we had the garden almost to ourselves but we weren’t able to linger as we might if the weather had been sunnier.
Rain was falling on and off as we snaked along winding back roads through picturesque Cotswolds villages on our way to Hidcote Manor Garden. A covey of Japanese tourists flitting across the street in Chipping Campden was the first hint of the international popularity of Hidcote, which has been called one of the most influential gardens of the 20th century. Why? Despite its 10 acres, Hidcote is an extremely intimate garden. Lawrence Johnston created a series of small garden rooms, each with a unique character which comes into full bloom at varying times of the season. This garden room approach to design was adopted by Sissinghurst and Tintinhull.
As you step into the garden, the view of the whole is cut off by tall hedges. The first room we entered was the White Garden. The layout is small enough to fit in my back yard. Of course, I could never grow hedges like these in Texas and, if I could, I’d need an army of garden helpers with clippers to keep them looking this neat. I’ve seen many photographs of the White Garden and have to say that during our visit the flowers looked sadly beaten down by the rain. Even the best gardens have less than perfect days. The tulips and daffodils were mostly finished, anyway, and the roses (“Gruss an Aachen” which I had before the drought killed it) hadn’t begun blooming yet.
In the White Garden AJM examines the map of the garden and is surprised to discover that it just “goes on and on”.
The White Garden has an exit through the hedges on each side of the square which gave me the feeling of playing a video game as we tried to decide which way to go. We circled around several times trying to take it all in before heading through the Old Garden (which had an exuberant cottage garden feel), through the Circle (a restful circle of perfect lawn), and then down through the Fuchsia Garden (formal maze).
The Fuchsia Garden manages to look nice even when the Spanish bluebell (?) bulbs have died down. Knot gardens (aka parterres) became fashionable when people realized that the hedges used to line their borders could be just as interesting as flowers and a more reliable element in the design.
From the Fuchsia Garden, topiary birds guard the entrance to the Bathing Pool Garden (classically formal and elegant) which in turn leads to the Upper Stream Garden (semi-wild). What a place to play hide-and-seek!
The Upper Stream Garden.
We walked up to one of my favorite views, the Winter Garden. I think I liked it because it felt so open after the smaller garden rooms. This contrast between open and intimate, formal and informal, and of colors and textures is the genius of Hidcote.
The Winter Garden.
Running parallel to the Winter Garden is the Red Border. I really liked the color choices in this garden…all the maroon-toned leaves were a relief after the intense English greens.
In the Red Border clumps of red-toned trees and shrubbery contrast against the angular green lawn and hedges.
Just as Hidcote’s maze of garden rooms starts to become a little claustrophobic, the Long Walk suddenly provides a vista.
The Long Walk and its hornbeam hedges.
And still the garden goes on. We cross over to the famous Theatre Lawn, which is supposed to highlight a single beech on its stage. We didn’t see it though. Has the beech died? Then we went on through the Pine Garden and Lily Pool, took shelter in the Plant House, and continued down the Rose Walk which didn’t have any roses. Instead large purple alliums were in bloom, and so many other purple flowers that I would have called it the Purple Border.
I’m sorry to say that our interest flagged in the rain. There is simply too much to absorb in one visit–29 different gardens. I think we focused mostly on the layout of each garden and how they were interconnected rather than the individual plants. This is a shame because Lawrence Johnston is remembered mostly as an avid plant collector. Apparently he did not have a master design for the whole, but created different spaces, such as the Maple Garden, to highlight different collections.
We did see the odd handkerchief tree (Davidia involocrata) in the courtyard whose white bracts make it look as if someone has tied a thousand large white handkerchiefs to its branches. I also saw a Mahonia, which grows in Texas, and a magnolia where the white flowers drooped down rather than up. Some of the collection is labeled, but many plants that I wanted to know more about weren’t.
By the end we were all flowered out. As we drove away, feeling tired but satisfied, the sun came out.
by M Sinclair Stevens in Austin, Texas