on garden rooms: a talk with hidcote's manager
I HAVE BEEN THINKING about garden “rooms” lately—about how it is that even a homemade and very informal garden like mine, built without any master plan or design expertise, ends up having defined spaces, anyhow. So when I saw news of a lecture by the manager of Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire, a century-old British treasure of 28 rooms, I wrote to ask the speaker some questions. Perhaps you’ll want to come to Berkshire Botanical Garden’s winter lecture–or if geography’s a challenge, and you’re not near western Massachusetts on Saturday, February 23 (or Philadelphia February 20, where he’s also speaking for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society), just come learn a little on the jump page about the making of garden rooms from Glyn Jones.
You may ask: Now why would I want to go to a talk about a historic and grand National Trust property situated in another climate altogether, a place long on fantastic walls and fountains, connecting outdoor “hallways,” magnificent topiaries, and hedges of box, hornbeam and yew? (As is probably the case in your garden, I have not one of those things here.)
On a visit maybe 20 years ago, Hidcote was the initial place I saw such formal lines contrasted against a “jungle style of planting.” Even though each garden area is clearly enclosed and its shape well-defined, as in the famed Red Border up top, the plants in individual beds within each area were invited to just have at it, to spill out into the paths here and there, and to spill into one another in a riot of color, texture and intimate connection that’s both restrained and unrestrained all at once. Delightful.
And then, it was this that made me perk up at news of the upcoming lecture:
On Garden Conservancy Open Days at my (not-a-manor) house (this year: May 11, June 1, August 17), I’m always startled when visitors say things like, “I love how your garden has individual rooms,” and I think, “Huh? Are you kidding?”
I am on a steep hillside, where no hard lines (other than my lopsided but basically rectangular raised vegetable beds) are possible—where “amoebic” is more the shape of things by necessity. But somehow, quite accidentally or at least subconsciously, the garden has indeed ended up with clear areas anyhow.
I WROTE TO Glyn Jones (below), Garden and Countryside Manager of Hidcote, to ask him about the evolution of the famous rooms there, and also about room-making in general. Our little Q&A, followed by a question for all of you about your own garden-making journeys:
Q. Did Lawrence Johnston, the founder of Hidcote, have few/many/most/all of the 28 rooms in mind before he made the first ones nearest to the manor house starting around 1907? Or did this Paris-born son of two Americans, who came to garden for 40 years in the making of Hidcote, conjure ways to add on over the years–did the garden as it grew suggest new rooms to him again and again?
A. This is a difficult question to answer as our archive does not extensively cover the early days of the garden development; no notes, plans etc. survive from this period.
So here are my thoughts:
I believe that the garden is a product of evolution; with maybe Johnston’s biggest inspiration being Thomas Mawson’s book “The Arts and Crafts of Garden Making.” We know he was reading this before the purchase [of what would become Hidcote] and again in the 1910s.
In essence Mawson describes a classic Arts and Crafts garden as one where nearest to the manor the architecture is very defined, using hedges, stone or brick walls to provide the structure, then these hard architectural lines are softened by a “jungle style of planting.” Nearest the manor the space is divided into smaller components (the rooms), each one having a different character, planting style and atmosphere.
One should not be able to see what’s beyond the enclosure of the room; the eye should be pinched, giving a glimpse towards the next room to encourage movement throughout the garden.
Then as your journey through the garden continues, you leave the more formal areas behind and travel through wilderness areas, these being inspired by William Robinson and the “naturalistic style of gardening.” These natural areas at Hidcote include the stream areas, bulb slopes, and wilderness areas both woody and herbaceous. All these can be described as “rooms,” just less formal to those rooms near the manor.
So I think Johnston conjured up a plan to which he could add onto as the garden developed, and the symmetrical central axis with vistas and avenues lends itself to this.
Q. Are rooms ever plotted even less deliberately? I ask this because probably totally unconsciously I created loosely defined areas when I began my home garden, but it wasn’t until nature and time conspired–not until the woody plants grew up–that any sense of defined areas took shape. If someone asked me who “designed” the garden, I’d say it was the shrubs, especially, and the garden-sized smaller trees that did.
A. Yes, I think rooms can develop. Gardens develop organically and naturally, with trees and shrubs growing up, eventually providing enclosure. Then a garden room is born. Rooms can either be large or very small areas but need boundaries, either in the form of grown-up woody specimens, hedges or walls.
what about your garden? do tell
SO WHAT ABOUT YOUR GARDEN? Does it have defined areas, and how and when did they appear–or are you in the process of sorting them out? Do tell us in the comments below.
join glyn jones for his february 23 lecture
TICKETS FOR “Back to the Future: The Garden at Hidcote,” to be held at 2 PM on Saturday February 23 (snow date February 24)are available at the Berkshire Botanical Garden website, or by calling (413) 298-3926.
Tickets are $35 members, $42 non-members; members and nonmembers can also sign up for a special “extra” lunch and chat with Jones ($50 or $60 a ticket for the lunch event).
The lecture is at Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts; the lunch and chat is at 11:30 AM at BBG, in Stockbridge.
Jones will also be lecturing at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society February 20.