Branching Out at Hidcote Manor Garden

Hidcote Manor Garden is one of England's great gardens. It was the life's passion of one man, self-taught gardener Lawrence Johnston who created his 'garden of rooms' here.

 

The creator of Hidcote

 

Lawrence Johnston was born in Paris of American parents. He came to England to study at Cambridge University.

 

After graduating, he fought for the British Army. He was so badly wounded in the First World War that he was laid out for burial. His colleagues realised that he was still alive only after he moved slightly.

 

In 1907, Johnston's mother, Mrs Gertrude Winthrop, bought the Hidcote Manor Estate. Johnston came to live at Hidcote and soon took to gardening.

 

Developing a masterpiece

 

Johnston spent 41 years creating what would become one of England's most influential 20th-century gardens. He began work in 1907, becoming interested in making a garden out of the fields surrounding the house.

 

The garden was developed in the fashionable Arts & Crafts style: a series of outdoor 'rooms' offering surprises and discoveries at each turn.

 

By the 1920s, the transformation was well under way. Johnston employed 12 full-time gardeners to help shape his 10-acre creation. He always took advice and read extensively on the work of eminent gardeners, such as Gertrude Jekyll.

 

'A garden of rooms'

 

Johnston designed Hidcote as a series of outdoor 'rooms', which combine sensuous masses of colour with traditional garden crafts such as topiary. Each room has its own distinct atmosphere and character.

 

The hedges that divide the rooms sprung up due to the plot's exposed aspect. Johnston planted hedges of holly, beech, hornbeam and yew for shelter and structure.

 

Exotic plants

 

As well as a gardener, Lawrence Johnston was an accomplished plantsman. The range of plants he used was huge.

 

In a never-ending quest, he secured rare and exotic species by sponsoring and taking part in plant hunting expeditions. Trips took him to the Alps, Kenya and South Africa. He also plant-swapped with the Australians and the Japanese.

 

The expeditions introduced over 40 new plants to cultivation in the UK, many of which bear Johnston's name. He was awarded three Awards of Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society for his plant hunting achievements.

 

The National Trust learns to garden

 

In 1948, Lawrence Johnston retired to Serre de la Madone, his home on the French Riviera where he had created another spectacular garden.

 

Hidcote Manor Garden came to the National Trust, the first property acquired specifically for the garden.

 

While carrying forward the spirit of Lawrence Johnston, Hidcote has changed over time since the 1930s. Lack of funding has led to areas of the garden becoming overgrown and many of Johnston's tender plants being replaced.

 

'This place is a jungle of beauty. I cannot hope to describe it in words, for indeed it is an impossible thing to reproduce the shape, colour, depth and design of such a garden through the poor medium of prose'

 

- Vita Sackville-West

 

For more information about Hidcote Manor Garden, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/...

 

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Taken on August 28, 2008