LivingTravelHidcote Manor Garden en Gloucestershire

Hidcote Manor Garden en Gloucestershire

Hidcote Manor Garden is one of Britain’s finest gardens and yet one of its most unlikely gardens. Find out how an eccentric and lonely American millionaire created the quintessential English country garden.

By all rights, Hidcote Manor Garden shouldn’t even exist. When wealthy Paris-born American Major Lawrence Johnston decided to create it, professional gardening experts thought he was crazy. The soil was all bad, the site, high up on the Cotswolds escarpment, was too exposed to wind and severe weather.

But gardening and plants were the obsessions of this shy and little-known gardening patron. And the garden he created was so special that, in 1948, it became the first property acquired by the National Trust for its garden alone.

A gardening obsession

Johnston, the well-educated heir to a Baltimore family of stockbrokers, became a British sub-act after graduating from Cambridge University and enlisting in the army to serve in the Second Boer War. Upon his return, he appears to have been somewhat lazy, although much of what is known about him is speculative.

His mother Gertrude Winthrop, who had ambitions for him to establish himself as a British gentleman, bought Hidcote Manor to launch into society.

Apparently he had other ideas. He began creating the Hidcote Manor Garden in 1907, and except for the wait time in WWI, it became his life’s work.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Johnston kept 12 full-time gardeners busy designing and planting his increasingly ambitious ideas. A great hobbyist, he was wealthy enough to seek the advice of many of the best artists and garden designers of the day, including Alfred Parsons and Gertrude Jekyll. When he decided he wanted massive topiary plants, he bought them, fully grown and fit.

Johnston traveled the world in his search for unusual plants, participating in and financing plant-gathering expeditions to the Swiss Alps, the Andes, South Africa, Kenya, Burma, Yunnan in China, southern France, Formosa, the Maritime Alps and the The Atlas Mountains in Morocco. He was known for having introduced more than 40 new plants in the UK. Many of them are named after him.

His mother never approved of the amounts of family money he lavished on the garden. In fact, when he died, he left most of his estate to a charity that only left him a protected income, in trust. Of course, it was, clearly, a very substantial income.

The secret Garden

Until the 1930s, Hidcote Manor Garden, with its series of garden rooms and exotic plant collections, was virtually unknown outside of Johnston’s little circle of gardeners and designers.

Eventually, Johnston turned his attention to creating a garden in Menton on the French Riviera and, in 1947, he passed Hidcote to the National Trust. Unfortunately, from the 1950s to the 1980s, the National Trust garden consultant at the time made so many changes that he may have buried Johnston’s original ideas in his own concepts.

More recently, the Trust has been using images, gardener’s notes, archives and excavations to recreate Johnston’s garden. Among the finds, a rockery completely covered with bushes.

Today, visitors to the garden can expect a delightful surprise, tucked away in a series of twisting country lanes in the Cotswolds.

What to see

  • The garden is organized as a series of open-air rooms separated by walls and hedges. The different styles of outdoor rooms peak at different times of the year, so there is usually something interesting to see.
  • Old roses, rare bushes and trees
  • Stunning painterly almost herbaceous borders.
  • Cotswold Panoramas across the Evesham Valley
  • Topiary, water and architectural features.
  • Crowded and abundant plantation that alternates with quiet and open areas.

Hidcote Manor Garden Essentials

  • Where: Hidcote Manor Garden, Hidcote Bartrim, nr Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire GL55 6LR, England
  • Get there:
    • By car: Hidcote Manor is near Mickleton, a town 4 miles northeast of Chipping Campden in the North Cotswolds and 1 mile east of the B4632, off the B4081. If you are using a satnav system, the OS map reference is 151: SP176429. Free parking is available about 100 meters from the garden. By Train: Honeybourne Station is 7 km away. Regular trains from London Paddington to Worcester, Hereford and Great Malvern stop at Honeybourne. Check National Rail Inquiries for schedules and prices. The journey takes about 90 minutes. The station does not have a dedicated taxi rank, but you can book a taxi in advance from Chipping Campden Taxis.
  • Phone: +44 (0) 1386 438333
  • Opening Hours: The gardens are open from the end of March to the end of October and on weekends during the winter months. It is closed throughout the month of January. Tip: The garden fills up on holidays and in good weather and admissions may be limited. Less crowded after 3pm
  • See their website for stores, restaurants, and openings.
  • Ticket: tickets for adults, children and families available. Check website for current prices.

Just around the corner

Stratford-upon-Avon is only 11 miles away. When you’re ready to take a break from Shakespeare’s birthplace, Hidcote is a great place to unwind.

And what about assignments?

Not all garden stories in England are about aristocrats employing famous famous gardeners to adorn their stately homes. The English at all levels of society have long been enthusiastic gardeners. Not all the wonderful gardens are linked to stately homes. Find out more about assignments where working men and women in the cities and towns of England can do a little gardening on their own.

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