Archive for the ‘Hidcote Manor’ Category

Gardening with a sense of place

September 21, 2010

Do you feel that a garden should reflect its surroundings? Apart from the house around which it is situated, should a garden be a part of the greater natural landscape?


Some garden design ties itself closely with place – Japanese gardens reflect, on a small scale, the mountains, valleys and lakes around them. Regional native plant gardens in incorporate trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs exclusive to the surrounding environment.

And yet there are Japanese gardens around the world, and a native plant garden in a city is decidedly unattached to its surroundings. Ilnacullin, on Garinish Island in Bantry Bay, Ireland, carries Harold Peto’s signature Italianate look.

We borrow whole designs, elements of design, and small design devices to make gardens that we love, so I thought it entirely appropriate to find a house in the Preston Hollow area of Dallas, Texas that you looked like it was lifted out of Hobbiton. The effect of stone (these are the hobbits that took to building houses not burrowed into the hills, but still reflecting a hobbit-hole sort of design) and round windows and a round door suited the woodsy surroundings.

Although some gardens I can’t imagine elsewhere – Lawrence Johnston’s Arts and Crafts style at Hidcote is perfect – I’m all for using elements of those gardens elsewhere. If only someone would build me a double gazebo.

Hidcote Manor, of course


Hidcote Manor – a great story

October 22, 2009

Hidcote Manor GardensWhen you love a garden, you want to know everything about it. Not just about the garden itself, its plants, pathways and ornament, but also about the garden maker, his history, his inspiration, his life. Or hers.  If you love Dumbarton Oaks, then you want to know about Beatrix Farrand; if you love Barnsley House, then it’s Rosemary Verey (and just where is that biography?). For me, it’s Hidcote Manor Gardens and its maker Lawrence Johnston. And so I’m delighted to have been sent a review copy of Ethne Clarke’s new edition of her book first published in 1989.

Hidcote: The Making of a Garden (Revised Edition) Ethne Clarke; forward by Roy Strong. W.W. Norton, New York, 2009. 184 pages. $45

What moves us to create gardens? In the new edition of her book Hidcote: The Making of a Garden, Ethne Clarke explores the influences of family, friends and the atmosphere of early 20th-century England on Lawrence Johnston that led him to create Hidcote Manor Gardens, one of the most influential landscapes of the 20th century.

Americans Johnston and his mother, moved to the Cotwold village of Hidcote Bartrim in 1907, and Johnston (at first with his mother) began what he would not finish until 1948, the year he signed a deed of trust that handed over Hidcote to the National Trust—the first garden it acquired and which it still maintains today.

Information unearthed in the last few years led to Clarke’s new edition, which delves more deeply into Johnston’s life and times. It’s an enjoyable and fascinating read, sort of a gossipy tell-all but with actual facts and a good bit of garden design theory thrown in. Johnston brought together two warring schools of thought at the time—formal garden design versus the naturalistic approach. He used both, with a formal landscape near the house segueing into the wild further out.

Clarke traces the influence of Johnston’s family and friends, the effects of World War I and the social influences of the times had on him. The account, personable and fascinating, tells a lively story and brings Johnston and Hidcote, the first garden to be acquired by the National Trust, to life. We’ve taken two groups through Hidcote, and each time property manager Mike Beeston has told us great behind-the-scenes stories; my favorite was the rumor that Norah Lindsay’s daughter Nancy burned all of Johnston’s papers because she was so upset not to have inherited Hidcote. I’ve not seen that story anywhere else until I read Clarke’s book.

Johnston’s garden design, from the round bathing pool to the tapestry hedges to the Pillar Garden was borrowed again and again and we are fortunate to have the original as a standard as well as a continuing model.

Topiary times

August 31, 2009

We don’t have enough topiary in the U.S.—not that I’m about to start clipping, but I always admire the work of others when we visit gardens in England. My favorite was the row of yew elephants that head gardener Ed Cross created at Hazelbury, near the village of Box in Wiltshire. The row of mature yew grown into arches

elephants in Wiltshire

elephants in Wiltshire

was already there, so Ed just couldn’t resist the temptation. The first time we saw them in 2004, he had just started and sent me a photo of his template. I took another picture during second visit two years ago, and you can see the beginning of the elephant form. Too bad the owners got wind of what he was doing and made him shear the elephants back into plain yew.

elephants appear

elephants appear

Of course, we all love the topiary at Hidcote and at Great Dixter.

Great Dixter

Great Dixter

You know, come to think of it, I could get just a small yew in a pot and start clipping. What would it be—a chicken? A teapot? A sofa? We saw an entire living room set clipped out of boxwood at Iford Manor; our guide Stuart decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

Iford furniture

Iford furniture

It may not be as easy as it sounds—Matthew Appleby at the Telegraph writes that gardeners are taking a new interest in the art, but his attempt at a simple shape met with mixed results.

The Writer in Somebody Else’s Garden

October 2, 2008

With apologies to Jane Garmey, editor of The Writer in the Garden, an anthology of garden-related literature.  I read many works about gardens and gardening, and enjoy some more than others.  Among my favorites:  Jenny Uglow’s light hand at heavy subjects (A Little History of British Gardening tops my list), Christopher Lloyd’s acerbic wit and Ursula Buchan brisk style.

            Writers are told that what they read will influence what they write.  It isn’t only garden writers I look to, but good writing in general, in the hope of getting an idea across in an entertaining, insightful and knowledgeable manner without wasting a word.  I’m irritated when reading a book and find myself editing it for style, syntax and word choice.  Some books, both fiction and nonfiction, start with a great idea and they may be full of interesting elements, but overall the writing is thin at best.  Naturally, I always wonder how in the world these books get in print.

            If I’m to try my best at writing about the gardens we visit — be it the famous Hidcote Manor or a private garden open through the National Garden Scheme — then I need to surround myself with good writing.  Without even trying, I came up with three writers who excel at their craft:

Jo Rowling — I don’t write fiction, but if I did I would want to write dialogue like she does.  No wasted words anywhere, and every turn of phrase evokes time, place and character.

Erik Larson — I’m just finishing Thunderstruck.  He’s precise in his research, and careful about not interpreting past events through modern eyes.  It’s true, I did have to skim over the details of the murder, just as I had to skim over a few paragraphs in Devil in the White City, but I admire him for his unsentimental (and unsensational) approach, while holding my interest through all the details.

Ray Bradbury — A deep thanks to the master.  I do not write science fiction or fantasy, but I will be forever grateful to Ray Bradbury, his imagination, and his enthusiasm for writing and for others who write.  I’ve attended four of his talks, the first when I was in 7th grade (more than 40 years ago), the last just a few years ago.  He’s an inspiration.

A good read

September 2, 2008

            Gardens, gardeners and plants figure sporadically into novels.  Several years ago when I was still volunteering at the Miller Library (a fabulous gardening library at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture), I helped librarian Brian Thompson create a list of mostly fictional books where gardening was at least a part of the story.  It ranged from Nero Wolfe’s orchids to Miss Marple, who wisely said: “Gardening is the best disguise”.

            Gardening is often woven into English writing, showing it’s more ingrained in the lives of the English than it is ours in the U.S.  You can’t turn a page in the Harry Potter series without Jo Rowling mentioning plants and gardens, from someone tripping over an aspidistra to a description of the rhododendrons in the Weasley garden (let alone what goes on in the greenhouses at Hogwarts).

            So, it’s no wonder it was a Brit who came up with the English Garden Mystery series.  Our friends and fellow anglophiles Holly and Gerry Wilson told us about the books.  The author, Anthony Eglin (who now lives in California) has three books out with a fourth expected next spring.  I’m reading them in order, just in case I need to know something about protagonist/gardener Lawrence Kingston (there’s a good physical description of Kingston in the first book, The Blue Rose, but if you need a visual aid, check out the author’s photo on the inside back cover).

            What fun to see Hidcote Manor Garden featured so prominently in The Lost Gardens (as well as a good short history of Heligan).  Plants, gardens and garden history take center stage here, and the author, a rose specialist, takes great pleasure in making the plot turn on some horticultural aspect.  (Just this one small misstep:  In The Blue Rose, the author mentions “clematis tendrils.”  Clematis don’t have tendrils — grapes have tendrils, sweet peas have tendrils, clematis climb by twining their petioles — leaf stems — around a support.)

            I’m about halfway through The Lost Gardens, which takes place in Somerset (as did The Blue Rose); I await my afternoon cup of tea to find out what will happen next at Wickersham.