We visited Hidcote Manor Gardens just as August turned to September, on a weekend where the warm sunshine was tempered by a slight autumn chill to the air and the surrounding countryside was brown with recently harvested stubble.
This Cotswold garden was created by an American, Lawrence Johnston who came to Hidcote when the estate was purchased by his wealthy mother. Here he was able to indulge his passion for gardening and plant collecting in the garden that he developed between 1907 and 1930 as a series of garden rooms, contained by hedges and surrounded by avenues of trees and woodland. The garden was acquired by the National Trust in 1948 and was one of the first properties to be taken on just for its gardens.
Once you’ve passed briefly through the house and the study, the view as you step down into the garden is over a low wall and down a long avenue of trees. But from here on, it’s a case of meandering through one enclosed garden after another, through the maple garden with the thatched cottage peeping over the wall to complete the English scene and then into the white garden with clipped box birds at the four corners and white roses reliving a little of their summer glory.
We skirted around the lawn with old Cedar of Lebanon that is the focus point beside the house and into The Old Garden with herbaceous borders in soft colours with pink dahlias and purple Michaelmas daisies, and a bunches of orange lilies, perfectly set off by the old brick garden wall.
Soon we come to the magnificent Red border – with the perfect colour scheme for an early autumn day. Crimson dahlias are flying like flags, backed by chocolate foliage and scarlet geraniums in pots on the steps where ferns and clematis scramble through the beds and grasses rustle in the breeze. We look back along the vista towards the Cedar of Lebanon and then climb the steps to admire the miniature summer houses on either side, one with pretty painted tiles and the other that frames the view down the steps towards the fields and countryside beyond. Next there’s a Stilt garden where the trees are bare trunked on gravel, with a dense canopy that’s clipped into straight lines, very French looking.
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On the terrace below we find the Pillar garden of clipped yews twined with ivy, yellow oregano and lavender. The terraced stone walls and pine trees, give a Mediterranean feel, a reminder of Lawrence Johnstone’s other garden, Serre de la Madone, in the South of France. A meander along the stream bed, dried out for the summer and a glimpse of the ha-ha that keeps the sheep in picture, but out of the garden and then we come upon an arched Billy-Goat-Gruff bridge that’s the start of a grassy avenue.
Here are children running races and collecting pine cones, and a perfect picnic spot in the wilderness on the other side of the hedge, where a pair of metal wart-hog sculptures are standing guard in the damp grass with, a little way off, another pair of giraffes have a view of the fields. We return to the house and stop for a coffee and cake in the tea shop before exploring the garden on the other side of the house. There’s a rectangular lily pond through the gate, with a purple and yellow theme of nicotiana, siberian wallflower and daisies, with the Plant House beyond. In the summer the side is open and you can sink into wicker chairs under the glass roof and make yourself at home as if you owned the place, while you contemplate tender greenhouse plants punctuated by spiky foliage. Although the Plant House is made from dark wood, I notice that all the other gates and garden doors are painted Hidcote blue, a shade that’s somewhere between green and peacock blue washed over with grey.
Around the lily pond are succulents in old stone troughs covered with lichen, and the bees buzz around through the clouds of waist high stems with delicate purple flowers and a few more pines for a hint of the exotic. We walk on through the orchard where there are another pair of animals released from the Ark, this time two solemn emu. The Rose border is past it’s best but the occasional striped, scented old-rose is still blooming. On the other side of the border from the orchard is the kitchen garden where a couple of pigs look up hopefully but then decide we have nothing to offer them. The pumpkins are swelling nicely and turning golden ready for harvest festivals and Halloween celebrations.
Consulting the garden plan, we realise the only bit we’ve missed is the Bathing Pool garden, with green water and an ornamental fountain in the middle. Yet look closer and you’ll see that the knee high water is deeper to one side, where one could have a cooling dip on a hot summer day and then run into the painted arbour to one side where bright young things from the 20s are playing croquet on the lawn. Our parting view of Hidcote is of families play ball on the grass and a gentleman in his 80s quietly enjoying a Magnum ice cream. It’s a place for all generations and all seasons.
Information for visiting Hidcote Manor Gardens
- Hidcote Manor Garden, Hidcote Bartrum, Near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, GL55 6LR
- Hidcote Manor Garden is run by the National Trust and is open March to December – you can find more details on their website here
- Entrance prices at the time of writing are Adults £9.05 and Children £4.54, family tickets £22.72
- We visited Hidcote Manor Gardens while staying nearby at the lovely country house hotel, Ettington Park Hotel, booked through Secret Escapes who offer special rates at Luxury hotels.
- For a pub lunch or evening meal nearby we recommend the Howard Arms at Ilmington
More things to enjoy in the area
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