Book review: The Garden at Hidcote

The Garden at Hidcote

More than 100,000 visitors pass through the gates of Hidcote Manor each year because, a century after it was begun, it has become one of the most famous and influential gardens in the world. The National Trust its owner since 1947 has, over the years, found ways of accommodating the endless streams of horticultural pilgrims, and has made significant efforts to restore the lost or neglected parts (such as its south-facing Plant House, for tender and exotic treasures).

The story of Hidcote’s making is as complicated as its 21 linked garden areas, but Fred Whitsey, who has been enraptured by this garden for more than 50 years, is the perfect guide through its plant-rich labyrinth. ‘In the French style, it has tall hedges screening a boscage and creating a vista that seems to stretch into infinity. Also showing French influence is its box-edged parterre of intricate design, with a planting scheme that changes with the seasons,’ he writes. ‘Essential to the Hidcote experience is the sensation of always being on terms of easy intimacy with plants; you seem wrapped around by them. This comes from the fact that almost all the flower borders are twins, each resembling its opposite, if not being a mirror image.’

Within 160 sumptuous pages, illustrated by Tony Lord’s glorious photography which shows the garden in every season, Whitsey is an enthusiastic and deeply know-ledgeable guide, whether informing us about its creator Lawrence Johnston, or analysing the cause and effect of any given garden area. One tiny, hedge-enclosed courtyard is known as Mrs Winthrop’s garden (after Johnston’s twice-widowed mother). ‘Did she ever sit there on a summer’s day?’ asks the author. ‘Her designer son did not provide her with much comfort, for he placed his collection of Georgian garden seats not inside it but outside, looking away.’ Instead, its low tiers of brickwork were, in Johnston’s day, strewn with blue and gold cushions on fine days.

‘She would have had to recline in Arab fashion, should she so wish not very dignified for the lady of the Manor, an American heiress brought up in exquisite comfort.’This is Hidcote’s centenary year, and one feels that Johnston would have welcomed and enjoyed this romantic, elegant tribute to his important horticultural legacy.

For details of the Lawrence Johnston Centenary Exhibition at Hidcote this month, visit