Really I thought I best get this post about Hidcote Garden up before it became too out of date. But really gardens never really ‘go out of date’ as there’s successional planting to make sure there’s interest all year round – that’s certainly the case a Broughton Grange and here at National Trust’s Hidcote.
This year has been difficult for many gardeners and head gardener, Jo, said in her August update: ‘It has been a difficult, hot and dry summer so far and the garden team have been very busy trying to ensure that all of the many annuals and tender perennials planted in spring and early June have been able to establish properly.’ Yet despite this, the garden’s were looking full and bountiful, here’s why you must visit Hidcote Gardens.
Hidcote is one of the country’s most celebrated gardens and is known worldwide. It was created by American anglophile, Lawrence Johnston, a soldier, gardener and plant hunter. It covers 4 hectares and the garden follows the Arts and Crafts principles and comprises a number of garden ‘rooms’ around the main house.
Who was this charismatic gardener behind Hidcote Garden?
Johnston was loved by his friends and his garden became the setting for many gatherings and parties hosting games of tennis, badminton and squash.
However, Johnston moved in highly horticultural-orientated circles, in fact he had his own ‘Bloomsbury-style set’ which included Mark Fenwick from Abbotswood; Heather Muir from Kiftsgate Court; Sir George Holford, founder of the Westonbirt Arboretum; Reginald Cory, of Dyffryn garden fame in South Wales; and the Messels, the great plant collecting family from Nymans, West Sussex.
Johnstone was an adventurous plant collector whose expeditions not only furnished his own garden but that of the royal botanic gardens in Edinburgh and Kew. His friend American novelist, Edith Wharton, said that the garden was ‘tormentingly perfect.’
It seems that Johnstone had quite an unusual upbringing. His American mother, Gertrude, was divorced from his father, Elliott, and remarried a wall street banker and the family moved between the states and Europe. On the death of both his dad and stepfather, Johnstone wasn’t included in either will. So, Lawrence forged a career in the army, seeing action in Boer War and WWI and in 1900 applied to become a British citizen to join the Northumberland Hussars.
He stayed with the Hussars until he retired in 1921, but throughout his life, Lawrence had continually developed a passion in horticultural – and as a young man, was elected as a fellow to RHS in 1904.
In 1907, Lawrence felt the need to lay down firmer roots and purchased Hidcote Manor when it came up for sale – likely as many of his friends were already in the area. When he moved in Johnstone had quite a blank canvas for the gardens, but he retained the large cedar tree which presides over the garden today.
During the 1930s Johnstone sponsored and joined plant hunting expeditions all over Europe as well as China, Taiwan and the Appalachian Mountains in USA returning with exotic species now found at Hidcote. Following WWII, Johnstone decided to retire in the South of France and approached the National Trust, who acquired the gardens as the first garden of national importance.
So why should you go to Hidcote Garden?
The vast amount of choice! In 1943, James Lees-Milne, from the National Trust, wrote: ‘The garden is not only beautiful but remarkable in that it is full of surprises. You are constantly led from one scene to another, into long vistas and little enclosures, which seems infinite. Moreover, the total area of this garden does not cover many acres.’
The garden is created in the Arts & Crafts style with ‘garden rooms’ so here are Tom & I’s top favourites:
The Bathing Pool Garden
The raised swimming pool was created in 1921 with a deeper end for diving and was frequently used by the Muir girls, who lived at Kiftsgate (also worth a visit I’m told – next year for us!) The planting includes cream hydrangeas and the vast pool reflects the open sky.
The Alpine Terrace
Has a large gravel terrace and undercover gazebos which shelter some of the garden’s more exotic species. It’s said that this garden is more reminiscent of the garden Johnstone had in South France.
Mrs Winthrop’s Garden
This was an area created for Gertrude to sit and be warm in a sunny place. It’s based on a familiar design of a circle set within a square, it’s enclosed with beech and lime hedges on three sides and open on the south side. A sundial sits in the middle and the borders are planted with yellow flowers – Gertrude’s favourite colour including the yellow-flowered Hypericum ‘Hidcote’. It’s also got the Mediterranean feel with terracotta pots planted with agave.
The Italian Shelter
I also loved the Italian Shelter with its thatched roof, the perfect spot for gin and tonic on a warm summer’s evening.
The red borders
Tom’s favourite spot – we weren’t able to actually walk down the borders they were roped off. But the red leaved banana trees looked impressive against the late summer flower; the mixture of large foliage and bold colours.
There are two coffee shops on site, plus a shop and small garden centre and adult entry is £14 with giftaid. National Trust members get in free.