It takes a certain kind of person to see beauty in a bedraggled, wet, mostly dead garden on a cold and damp October afternoon. I had already been rained off once and with only a week in the UK and six gardens on my list to visit, I wasn’t going to be deterred. On the day I flew back to Australia, my extremely kind parents drove me all the way to Gloucestershire to see the renowned Hidcote gardens.
As I write this on the plane home and reflect on the four big gardens I saw this week (Sissinghurst, Great Dixter, Wisley and Hidcote), Hidcote stands out for its natural planting around the outer reaches of the garden. It is quite possible that in mid summer I would have swooned over the perennial borders but having been spoilt with these all week, the more rustic areas were the real highlight for me.
Furthest from the house, ‘The Wilderness’, ‘Stream’ gardens and ‘Hydrangea Corner’ really captured my imagination. Meandering, sloped pathways made from small Cotswold rocks took me through these more wild areas, where you could almost imagine the plants had self seeded in exactly the spot that was perfect for their needs.
I remember reading, a long time ago, that putting plants in places where they thrive (particularly thinking of light and moisture levels) is also the route to skilful design. The thinking being that the design will automatically look right if plants are in their natural environment. At the time, I thought that it was a useful guide to bear in mind, but assumed that this would only be helpful in the initial stages of my learning – my ambition was to be so good at design that I would be beyond such guidelines later on.
As is often the case, it is only later that you realise how wise the advice you have been given really is. The longer I design for, the more I love a garden that fits its setting – on both a micro and a macro level.
Hidcote is fortunate to have a stream running through it as well as gentle banks, slopes and undulations. It adds so much to the character of the garden and it is lovely that these natural contours have been retained, worked with and fully taken advantage of.
Another natural feature which has been utilised is the shade created by many large trees on the property. Here a stunning shade loving garden has been made with massed ferns providing strong textural contrasts. There is even an Australian Dicksonia tree fern in a protected spot, to the left of the photo below!
Whilst the natural areas are more unique to Hidcote, we should not forget the more formal areas too.
To summarise my tour of English gardens, Sissinghurst has an immense historic sense of place, Great Dixter has exuberance and fun, Wisley has a wealth of ideas spanning the whole spectrum of horticulture and Hidcote has its natural, wild, perfectly balanced sense of place. How spoilt I am to have seen them all this week!