It's a little known fact that the garden designer who inspired hundreds of English gardens was an American, Lawrence Johnston. He moved to England when his mother, Gertrude Winthrop, bought Hidcote in 1907, and proceeded to turn the garden at the edge of the Cotswolds into a showcase that now attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Topiaries guard the entrance to the Bathing Pool
I can attest to this last: when we visited yesterday, there were coaches filled with German and Japanese tourists in the carpark. Walking through the narrow paths of the garden, we heard Germans exclaim—well, I'm not sure what exactly they were saying but it was probably "How beautiful!" Or maybe, "What this garden needs is more orderliness! How messy! Typical English."
Because that is the charm of Hidcote. It's messy, with wildflowers growing in amongst the ornamental plants, delicate riots of forget-me-nots poking between bursts of peonies, fancy fuchsias cascading alongside paper-thin poppies. And immigrants, so unwelcome in English gardens, are welcome here (perhaps in consideration to Laurie Johnston's American roots?): Spanish bluebells, which gardening magazines instruct you to pull out by the bulb, are thriving under the shade the huge Cedar of Lebanon.
Yet there's an order, too, to the wild profusions of flowers. Strict hedges line the garden spaces, creating separate "rooms", each with a thematic plant scheme. The White Garden, the Red Borders, the Alpine Terrace—you get it. And peonies and allium and forget-me-nots poking up any and everywhere.
The Long Walk, a corridor bordered by hornbeam, is the perfect place for cartwheels, which my niece performed beautifully on my first visit to Hidcote in 2005. The Bathing Pool, which is not for bathing, is a little oasis of tranquility in a garden teeming with life—and tourists. Rock gardens, seemingly an anomoly in the lush English countryside, are charmingly appropriate at Hidcote, where every plant seems welcome, despite its origins.
Hidcote came to the National Trust in 1948, when Johnston, in failing health, decided to move to his garden in the south of France. It was the first garden the Trust managed, and going was tough at first, with no endowment to sustain it.
Hidcote is located in a difficult spot, hidden amidst a network of single-track roads a few miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. We had to pull over several times while coaches passed, but that allowed us to admire the stunning spring views across the Vale of Evesham, now enhanced by modern fields of rape glowing like phosphorous in the sun.
Hidcote is definitely worth finding. It's an English showcase garden, the inspiration for countless cottage gardens. Even for brown thumb gardeners like me—I could only name a few of the plants I saw at Hidcote—the garden offers a glimpse of what could be—if I had a team of National Trust gardeners and a few million pounds at my disposal. On the other hand, many of the same plants are for sale in the plant shop, and I brought home a few, including a Hidcote lavender. I've got a corner next to my patio that will become my miniature "Hidcote garden".
I'm even thinking of making a haha to keep the cows from gaining entrance into the garden—more attractive than the fence that's there now.
See? Even now, Lawrence Johnston is inspiring this American expat.
More photos below, and a full album here.