I just returned from a trip back to the UK where I visited three iconic gardens - Hidcote, Kiftsgate, and Sissinghurst - as they settled into their autumn colors. While I would have loved to visit many more, these hung together nicely as a group of gardens inspired by the vision of one person or family. Two are owned by the National Trust, and one thrives as its own private home. The curious thing is that each seemed to have something to teach me about my own little garden.
Hidcote Manor Gardens
Big and bold, Hidcote is the odd man out in this group. Created by the American, Lawrence Johnston in the early twentieth century, Hidcote oozes money and the confidence that it can inspire. The result is an impressive if slightly impersonal garden flexing its muscles above the vale of Evesham. I suspect that Johnston was neither the genius that the National Trust would have you believe, nor the villain you find in various books and documentaries. Needless to say that a brash American, spending his inheritance on a massive "English" Garden in the Cotswolds, will ruffle a few feathers
The first thing that strikes you about Hidcote is structure. Johnston had a great deal of space and he uses it to his advantage by creating a number of long axes (the plural of axis, not cutting tools!) The pleached limes lead you to a spectacular view of the Vale of Evesham.
As do the massive twin hedges that lead away from the gazebos that have come, in many ways, to define the garden.
Hidcote also tics all the boxes for a grand garden of its era - enormous country house, whacking big kitchen garden. . .
. . . Sculptures of beloved pets and domestic animals, and water features both large and small. The only thing missing is a large natural-ish body of water (along the lines of Blenheim or Stowe).
When I visit an important space like this I ask myself "What can I take away for my garden? And the use of sight lines seems to be key to Hidcote's success. I don't have the money, space, or imagination to raise my little patch above the level of "personal pleasure garden", but I do have one project, the formal (and proposed sunken garden) that could take some direction from Hidcote.
The gravel path is surrounded by two box-edged beds and leads to a step that is framed by two weeping redbuds. If I think like Hidcote and extend the visual line for about another fifty feet I can create the illusion of one continuous formal garden. If I really wanted to double down on the formality (and the budget), I could level this area (it is two feet higher near the steps) and create a sunken garden.
Maybe even use the space to install a Hidcote-like rectangular pond, create a full stop with a beech hedge and a focal point . . .
That all seems a little ambitious, and more than I will ever take on, but I suppose that is the danger of visiting gardens such as Hidcote.
Next up: A walk through Kiftsgate.