Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I had different plans for yesterday. I was going to spend the day in the garden catching up on some weeding and fall planting. The heavy rains, which continued through much of the day, made that impossible. It looks as though this may be the same story today. My thoughts have turned to our final English garden visit of the summer, Hidcote Manor. Several years ago we were disappointed to find the garden closed on the day we hoped to visit. This year we made sure they were open.

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.

The pool house.

The large flowers of the tree peony.

The white garden enclosed by massive yew hedges.

How I love those foxgloves.

The familiar Agave americana in the waterlily garden.

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.


  1. Thank you so much for this tour, Jenny. I devoured the images and the amusing anecdotes about Lawrence's life, and am going to go back right now and read it all again.

  2. Another great tour of another great garden. You do such a good job, it feels like being there.
    Thanks for sharing, again.

  3. I have seen some of these pictures before it seems. I haven't read much about the background. It was amusing and interesting.

  4. Thank you for the views and history of such a wonderful garden. Family is often complicated isn't it?

  5. Pam,Linda, Lisa and Sweet Bay- I'm glad you enjoyed the tour. Many of these gardens had rather eccentric owners. They usually had money to do what they did. I wonder what Lawrence considered a small allowance? Next time I am in England I must take a look in the probate books to see how much she left!

  6. Jenny, another wonderful story about a very beautiful garden. It is amazing to think that 100 years ago, the estate was purchased, and how long it took for the garden to mature. I guess that pleached Lime Walk I planted this year will be absolutely fabulous in 2109. LOL
    It is unfortunate that she burned all his gardening papers, they would have been very interesting.

  7. What a great tour of one of the very best gardens.

  8. Thank you for the beautiful pictures! I looked online in vain for a plan of the gardens. Must find out what distinguishes an Arts-and Crafts garden...

  9. Deborah-I wonder if they knew how wonderful their garden was going to look. My garden rooms get so overgrown in just a few years there is no hope of that kind of maturity.
    Hermes- I would go back there tomorrow if I lived anywhere near.
    Chookie-I think the A&C gardens all had garden rooms.

  10. Thanks from an armchair traveler, Jenny - what lovely photos and post of a garden we'd all love to see in person but are glad to visit it via your blog. I remember photos of the Red Walk on the Zanthan Gardens blog a few years ago. It looks like a wonderful place.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  11. You posted this when I was on vacation in Yosemite and I'm just catching up and reading it. I love that Lawrence was a plantsman first and designed the rooms to showcase his various and varied collections.

    Hidcote's different gardens have so many moods, some intimate, some expansive. For anyone who wants to see more photos, I've linked to my post.