How soothing it is to sit in the “wilderness” area of Hidcote Manor Garden listening to the wind swishing through the leaves. Intermittently the peace is broken by the “meh- meh!” of sheep which are grazing on the fields below the ha-ha which marks the boundary. There is the gentle hum of conversation interspersed with the coo-cooing of a nearby wood pigeon. Shame about the occasional squeals and shrieks from children whose parents do not understand that this garden is not the place for “hide ‘n seek”. From where I sit I have views south over a field of ripening wheat ready for harvest. Perfect place for a picnic – especially if someone else is carrying the basket!
Lawrence Johnstone’s mama did not like him investing their money on his garden project, but I am so glad that he did. Even better, he gave his garden to the National Trust in 1948. By that time he had transformed fields containing a few trees into one of England greatest ‘Arts and Crafts’ gardens.
He deliberately designed the garden spaces to slowly unfold, revealing new vistas at every turn. Lawrence Johnstone served in the Boer War and then in the First World War. Shipped out to Zeebrugge in 1914, he was shot straight through the lung on 23rd October and mistakenly left for dead. Fortunately a friend on the burial party noticed that Johnstone was still breathing. Apparently he studied gardening books whilst convalescing in order to continue creating the garden he had started in 1910. A garden project on such a huge scale requires much manpower and in 1920 Lawrence was employing a dozen gardeners. Today the National Trust employs a large team of workers and volunteers to maintain the gardens, run the kitchens and manage the visitors. The focus at Hidcote is the garden and only two rooms of the seventeenth century manor house have been restored and open for viewing. This means that the place is closed over the winter months when there is little to see in the garden.
The breeze is blowing harder now, rustling the leaves overhead. Rain? The sky is an ominous steely grey colour and the forecast did mention “showers later”. Time to move. As I walked beside the Lower Stream Garden I smelt wet earth – then I detected the distinct aroma of burnt sugar. Surrounded by greenery this was most baffling until a fellow visitor explained that the smell was given off by the Katsura Tree. ‘Cercidiphyllum japonicum’ originated in China and Japan and when the leaves change colour in the autumn they give off this aroma. I wonder whether this tree was one of the plants that Lawrence brought back on his travels? As I passed though a garden space that had been laid out with box hedges last year I notices that it had been completely re-planted with hardy fuchsia. Apparently the box was removed because it was affected by “box blight” and the most effective way to eliminate the fungus was to destroy existing plants and to start afresh after a couple of years of alternative planting.
The stilt garden is one of the sculptured spaces: Hornbeam trees have been “pleached” to line the path. Such a great word! So what does it mean? To quote from Wikipedia “Pleaching or plashing was common in gardens from late medieval times to the early eighteenth century, to create shaded paths, or to create a living fence out of trees or shrubs. This craft had been developed by European farmers who used it to make their hedgerows more secure”.
In spite of several previous visits to the garden I still get lost. My very first visit was an absolute disaster. Dressed in my anorak and armed with an umbrella, I expected to be protected but the rain was so heavy that it even seemed to drip from the inside of the umbrella. The stream was in full spate, gushing madly over the rocks. Much more exciting that the usual trickle. I felt so sympathetic with day-trippers whose tour of the garden was washed out. They had travelled all the way down to Hidcote Manor Garden from Yorkshire. I knew that I was staying fifteen minutes away and would return the following day. Click here for more.