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April 02, 2014

Hidcote Manor Garden

Okay here comes another entry for the beauty that awaits you on this summer's English garden tour 2014. Drumroll please… Hidcote.

Hidcote was the work of a man named Lawrence Waterbury Johnston. Johnston was already 36 when he arrived in Gloucestershire with his mother in 1907. She purchased the property at auction in the hopes that her only surviving son would become a farmer. Instead he became a plantsman extraordinaire. Johnston is responsible for many plant introductions, including Jasminum polyanthum also known as pink flowering jasmine. Any plant that is named either Hidcote or Johnston's this or that is attributed to Johnston. He left no diaries or plant records as to the creation of the gardens. He wasn't a member of the Royal Horticulture Society. Few photos survive to give us any insight into who Johnston was. What we do know is that he never married and his best friends were society ladies.

When we visited Hidcote in the spring of 2012 it was pouring down rain interspersed with bright sun. There were very few visitors to the gardens that day and due to the late rains that England was experiencing, the gardens were a little behind in terms of flower display.

Hedges were used to divide the garden into smaller rooms, rather than stone walls which was quite popular with most arts and crafts designers. Johnston "invented" the use of the tapestry hedge; different texture and colored shrubs sheared into one wall. I've included examples here.

For me personally, I had the feeling that I was in the presence of my gay gardener ancestor. Although none of the docents would come out and say that he was gay, they said that scholars have implied that he was. There is so little written record of Johnston that it won't ever be known. But for me, I was particularly moved to be in this garden and to experience his genius.

By the time Hidcote was turned over to the National Trust in 1948 Johnston was living permanently at his home and garden in the south of France, Serre de la Madone, near Menton. Hidcote was the first property the Trust had acquired that was for the garden alone. They had no experience maintaining or managing a garden. They went through many lean years until the appointment of Graham Stuart Thomas as the curator of the gardens. This happened around 1955. The Hidcote course was set.

If you enjoy the photos, please consider joining Mike, myself and others on our summer garden tour. We have chosen 16 amazing gardens and specialty nurseries, a beautiful house and pool located in the Cotswold, charming company, great food for you to enjoy. It's going to be a fantastic week in England. Details upon request.

Guest writer: Frank Eddy

We have two spots remaining on our tour July 11-18th 2014. Click here for the itinerary.

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