Close to the end of August I made a visit to Hidcote Manor Garden, an inspirational and influential garden in Gloucestershire.
Hidcote Manor Garden is a series of enclosed spaces or ‘rooms’. It has narrow windy paths leading in different directions through dense planting and over streams, as well as more formal areas, such as the Fuchsia Garden, where dwarf fuchsias are grown inside box hedging, and Stilt Garden, which, inspired by French gardens, has pleached hornbeam hedges forming a neat square on “stilts”. There are eclectic combinations, for instance in the “pillar garden” of overflowing beds combined with eccentric pillars of yew.
There is still plenty of colour to be found at this time of year in parts of the garden – the multiple Hydrangeas are at their peak, and there are orange lilies combined with pink phloxes in parts of the pillar garden. Its famous ‘red border’ is displaying luxuriant deep reds and purples – especially noticeable are the dahlias with red and burgundy flowers, some with purple foliage, as well as the cordylines, purple leaved hazels and elders.
The garden is eccentric, with its topiary birds, colour themed “rooms” and overflowing borders, and self-referential, rather than attempting to relate to the wider landscape. It is not to everyone’s taste, but has been highly influential in garden design in the twentieth century. It was created between 1907 and 1930, largely by Lawrence Johnston, although his mother, Mrs Winthrop had considerable influence on the garden, especially in the early years. Johnston was a great collector of plants and manipulated the site to grow a great many plants requiring different conditions, including tender plants grown in shelters and alpines grown in scree beds. He brought in huge quantities of sawdust and peat in order to grow rhododendrons on what was naturally alkaline soil.
The garden evolved in different stages and both drew on and broke with tradition. Instead of architectural walls and pergolas, Johnston used hedges to divide the space, and, instead of sculpture he used topiary. The architectural lines were often fudged to fit with the fall of the land – the bathing pool for instance, is well off centre. The relationship between house and garden is less apparent than in gardens designed for instance by Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, although he also appeared to “borrow” elements, such as a lion’s mask water spout, from Jekyll’s gardens, and certainly to be influenced by her colour theories. But, one can also see the influence of Italian gardens for instance in the Long Walk.
Like any artist, Johnston drew on influences to innovate and create his own personal statement that has survived thanks to the National Trust, who took over the running of the garden in 1948, which remains influential today. Hidcote Manor Garden is interesting to visit for anyone, and a must for anyone interested in garden design.