I always leave Hidcote wishing that it was pretty much on my doorstep: I’d love to visit more often so I could watch this oversized, hundred year old cottage garden move gracefully from season to season.
It’s a little ironic that one of the archetypal English gardens was created by an American, Lawrence Johnston, his influence extending to the neighbouring Kiftsgate Court (which would also make my personal top twenty gardens list). Johnston had absorbed many of Gertrude Jekyll’s ideas and, luckily for us, he had the passion and resources to make his grand dream real.
Today his house and garden is maintained by the National Trust. It’s far from easy to keep the classic, long and deep, twin herbaceous borders you’ll find at many of the best English gardens in tip top condition: adding colour constraints can only create more of a challenge.
Hidcote’s white moon garden may have been eclipsed by the one created by his contemporary Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst, but his hot, red double border continues to melt the hearts of gardeners. My garden writer friend Sandy Felton loves it with a passion – you can enjoy her wit and wisdom through the popular online magazine Reckless Gardener.
For me, it’s a minor disappointment that you can’t walk down Hidcote’s famous red border: you have to peer in from the ends. I suppose it helps keep the grass in good condition.
You’ll usually find a picturesque wheelbarrow parked part way down, piled high with dead-headed flowers and garden debris. Even if the barrow’s been relieved from duty, it can be a challenge to get a clear picture without also capturing the visitors taking it in turns to gaze devoutly from each end into the long, densely planted twin borders. It always reminds me of being in a crowded National Gallery some years ago, queuing to take a look at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting.
But it’s worth it. The stars of the show include dahlias, cannas, salvias and verbena ‘Lawrence Johnston’ performing against a rich backdrop of green, purple and burgundy foliage. Many of the flowers are annuals and the dahlias have to be lifted and replanted, so the red borders are reinvented each year, making each visit a new experience – assuming you’re paying attention!
I’ve read that the colour scheme of the original planting was inspired by the various shades of red in the folds of a musician’s dress in another painting, Madame Suggia by Augustus John and that this picture is still used as a reference today when selecting cultivars. The timing seems plausible, but I’d say that some creative license has been used if the story is true!
The red border is just one of the many gardening rooms and vistas at Hidcote, each with a different theme or style. So far as I can remember it’s the only one where access is restricted.
Hidcote has its critics but their standards must be very lofty. For me this is a must-see English garden, conveniently situated in the heart of England, nestled in amongst the villages and hamlets of the Cotswolds.
I’m sharing these pictures taken in summer 2014 in eager anticipation of my planned visit later this year: I can hardly wait to see what this classic English garden has in store.
A few more links
Check out another red border, at Coton Manor.
The Dress: Madame Suggia by Augustus John is reputed to have provided the red border’s colour theme.
And finally my post showing a close up of the sculpted head of Ariel at the top of the steps leading down to the red border. You can just about see it in position in the picture on the left, above.
If you have a favourite red border, please let me know.