Hidcote Manor, Mickleton, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, GL55 6LR.
I have to come clean on this one, Hidcote is one of my favourite gardens and it’s also been a major influence on garden design in the Twentieth Century and beyond. Major Lawrence Johnston inherited what was virtually an empty site in 1907. He was born in Paris of American parents and grew up in France. He had some architectural training and was probably a visitor to Versailles with their gardens designed in the formal manner by Le Notre, but Hidcote is something else.
Johnston was interested in the cottage garden style, so evoked in the watercolour paintings of the Victorians, but also was a keen plant hunter visiting South Africa and China in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
There’s a wonderful White Garden which inspired Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst, which contains Box birds on a small scale. But there is also much larger work in the bathing pool gardens and around the theatre lawns. (This has to be the most perfect place to watch “Much Ado about Nothing!”)
Johnston invented the concept of garden rooms, which we now take for granted and it is difficult to imagine what a surprise they must have been in the years just before and after the First World War. These rooms are separated by majestic hedges and it is sad to think that Johnston himself did not see them in all their mature glory. One of the unique features at the time was his use of tapestry hedges. i.e. a hedge made up of different species such as Yew, Holly and Beech so that in summer they take on different mottled colours and in winter have a distinct theatrically all of their own.
The whole point of Hidcote, in my opinion is that its the contrast between the formal and the informal which makes it so spectacular. O.K. not your own back garden but a world to get lost in and enjoy. I know some people who prefer the rambling charms of Kiftsgate Court just up the road as they can see their own plots in it in their minds eye but I for one love Hidcote and the fact that the National Trust now keep it for the nation is a comforting thought.
Hidcote Manor is approached up long andwinding country lanes and can be terribly busy in summer so try and getthere early.
All photographs by Anthony Blagg
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