I think many people would be surprised to learn that this garden was the work of an American, Lawrence Johnston (1871-1958). He was born in France, of American parents, spending only his early years in America before attending Cambridge University. He became a naturalized British citizen sometime before 1900, fighting in the Boer war and WW I, for which he was highly decorated.
The house and 300 acre estate was purchased in 1907 by Johnston's widowed and very wealthy mother, Gertrude Winthrop. She lived there along with Lawrence until her death in 1927. It appears that she was upset with her son for becoming a gardener instead of a farmer and left her fortune to more distant relatives, leaving only the house and an allowance to Lawrence. During her 20 years at Hidcote she had complete control over the purse strings and her son. In fact Lawrence was aptly described as "mother ridden"
Nevertheless she must have paid for much of the early work at Hidcote because the only planting they inherited was a large Cedar of Lebanon and a beech grove. Johnston set about dividing 10 acres of the property into rooms along a central axis. He sought planting advice from his great friend and artist-gardener, Norah Lindsay. Norah was said to be able to 'trace out a whole garden with the tip of her umbrella'.
There is always something exciting about walking through the gate into a well planned garden. Johnston divided his gardens from each other with hedges and topiary. He must have had great vision, as many garden designers had, because it is only today that the gardens have reached their full potential.
It was a little early to see the Red Walk in all its splendor. Just a sprinkling of red among the green. The eye is drawn up the steps and past the two Dutch style pavilions to the vista beyond.
Beyond the pavilions is the Stilt garden. A massive allee of pleached hornbeams.
Lawrence was a knowledgeable plantsman and breeder and later in his life he traveled to distant lands to collect plants. He suffered health problems having lost one lung and suffering from Malaria but still managed to travel to China. Unfortunately he was a poor traveling companion and was described as a 'right good old Spinster spoilt by being born male'
He planned to leave the property to his friend Norah but she preceded him in death. When Lawrence decided to leave the property to the National Trust, Norah's daughter, Nancy, was displeased, insisting that Lawrence had deputized her to take care of the gardens in his absences abroad. She did oversee the care of the gardens in the early years but in a fit of fury she burnt all the Johnston's gardening papers. Nevertheless, the garden itself remains as evidence of Johnston's skills as a garden designer and in leaving the property to the National Trust we all get to enjoy this wonderful garden.