Five years ago, my sister and I stood outside the gates of Hidcote Manor in a state of distress. This particular property was high on our list of ‘must see’ English gardens. I was enjoying a one-week-stopover between work in Afghanistan and a visit home and my sister was joining me after a stay in London, which included time at the Chelsea Garden Show. So there we were, anxious to walk through a visual wonder created by the great garden designer Lawrence Johnston and the gates to the manor were locked.
This past summer, I again returned to England and on this occasion successfully entered the grounds to see Hidcote Manor after its 10 year 3.5 million pound restoration by The National Trust Hidcote was the first property to be taken over by the National Trust, a surprising choice in 1947 given that its creator was a shy, American-born soldier who seemed happiest in the company of his plants. Fortunately, Lawrence Johnston had access to some of his mother’s fortune, which allowed him in 1907 to begin transforming bare, exposed farmland into the beautifully structured garden it is today.
Many of the concepts and rules that aspiring gardeners learn as they study the art of gardening are evident at Hidcote Manor. In fact, many garden critics describe Lawrence Johnston as the man who so effectively incorporated those concepts at Hidcote that it garden became the most influential twentieth century garden in England.
As an amateur gardener moves through the grounds of Hidcote, it is fun to discover the devices and techniques that Lawrence Johnston used over a hundred years ago to craft his masterpiece and that, to this day, make a visit to his estate immensely rewarding.
His garden rooms, visual surprises, views opening and closing, long walks and, of course, the stunning red border have all been photographed, described, applauded and copied. They continue to delight and inspire.
To actually borrow any of his ideas is somewhat dependent on where you live and the property on which you garden. My gardening takes places at our cottage that is located on a lake in Eastern Ontario, Canada, in the growing zone 4b/5a. As much as I like the concept of hedged rooms, Lawrence’s ideas would not work for me. A major reason he used hedges was to protect his plants from the winds blowing across the Cotswold escarpment. Although I would appreciate relief from frigid winds, that relief would come at the cost of blocking the greatest asset of our location – the view of the lake.
And in our part of the world, the hedges themselves could not be replicated. The impressive variety of plant material used to create the 7 km of hedges at Hidcote is not available to me and the cedars that grow on our property must be protected from hungry deer each autumn by constructing wooden frames around the trees and covering those frames with burlap.
That does not mean that Lawrence Johnston’s concept of intimate spaces has not reached across the Atlantic. In a location colder than mine, a splendid garden was created in Quebec by Francis Cabot called Les Quatre Vents. There you will find rooms surrounded by cedar hedges, long vistas, focal points, water features and beautiful structures, all influenced by great British, European and Asian gardeners.
Although I do not operate on such a grand scale, I too can pay attention to, and adopt, some of Johnston’s ideas about clipped evergreens, lush plantings and the power of colour. One of the joys of visiting great gardens is the visual memory they stamp on your brain which can translate into subtle and sometimes astonishing changes in your own gardening space.
By Barbara Reinhardus
Photo credits Barbara Reinhardus
© Riding the buses