May 21st, 2006
Hidcote Manor Garden

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.

Hidcote Manor Garden
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).

Hidcote Manor Garden
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!

Hidcote Manor Garden
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.

Hidcote Manor Garden
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.

Hidcote Manor Garden
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.

Hidcote Manor Garden
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

7 Responses to post “Hidcote Manor Garden”

  1. From Carol (Indiana):

    You’ve done a great job of describing these gardens and your visits, with excellent, clear pictures. Thanks for sharing with those of us who haven’t been there!

  2. From M2 (Austin):

    Wow. Wow, wow, wow.

    I’m sorry you were too tired and soggy to get the most out of the experience, but it looks amazing. I want to go!

    I love the that there are different gardens for diffent moods/feels — and I especially liked your video game analogy about having to choose!

  3. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    M, as always, your descriptions are wonderful. Your writing and photos almost make me feel as if I were there too.

  4. From Annie in Austin:

    Welcome back! It all looks amazing, and you even got to see the “Handkerchief tree” in bloom, what timing! I can’t decide whether to be jealous about being flowered out, o. jealous about the rain, so maybe it is both.


  5. From Marilynn Tobash:

    We went to Hidcote on our trip to England in 1998. We went to Suffolk for a reunion of my father’s WW2 Bomb Group, he was killed in action and this was a way to get to know more about him.

    After a week in Suffolk we rented a cottage in the Cotswolds for a week.It was our last full day in Britain and Hidcote was what I had wanted to see the most. We were lucky with the weather that day, it was late August and the day was sunny and warm and everything was in full bloom and was absolutely beautiful. The red border was my favorite, it had every shade of red from the maroon leaves on the trees to the brightest scarlet crocosmia I’ve ever seen.

    The gardens even impressed my husband who is usually only impressed by something to do with trains and railroads. He finished up the 2 rolls of film we hadn’t used yet (this was before we got a digital camera) and the pictures are all gorgeous.

    I’ve been back to England 3 times since then but I haven’t been able to go back to Hidcote. It’s high on my list of favorite gardens and I will get back to see it again someday.

    Marilyn, thanks for sharing. The red garden was also my favorite. Now that I’ve taken the layout of the garden in and understand the relationship of one garden room to another, I’d love to visit again and stroll through with an eye to the individual plants in this vast collection, and to see it in different seasons. — mss

  6. From Heirloom Gardener:

    Wow, I’ve read about Hidcote and really want to visit. Your pictures are gorgeous. Maybe I’ll plot to go for my 40th birthday.

  7. From Jenny (Austin):

    Gorgeous photos and descriptions. It photographs just as well in the rain. It is number one on my list.

    I’m itching to go back and see it again, maybe a little later in the season. — mss