Soon will the high
Midsummer pomps come on,
Soon will the musk carnation break and swell,
Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
Sweet William with its homely cottage smell,
And stocks in fragrant blow;
Roses that down the alleys shine afar,
And open, jasmine-muffled latices,
And groups under the dreaming garden trees,
And the full moon and the white evening star.
Thyrsis. Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)
Hidcote is a National Trust property, originally owned and created by Major Lawrence Johnston. In 1907 when he first acquired the property, there was no garden at all, just a few fine trees. It has been said that it must have taken immense optimism, imagination, skill and energy, not to mention foresight, to create the magnificent garden which is Hidcote today. Many, many gardens, not the least Sissinghurst Castle, have been influenced by the series of garden ‘rooms’ designed by Major Johnston.
To describe the magnitude and beauty of this garden is almost impossible. Vita Sackville-West wrote,
“There is so much to say that it is impossible to compress it into a single article. This place is a jungle of beauty. I cannot hope to describe it in words, for indeed it is an impossible thing to reproduce the shape, colour, depth and design of such a garden through the poor medium of prose; I express only the hope that gardeners and garden lovers will visit Hidcote in their thousands”.
It is simply an experience of immense pleasure to progress from one garden to another, going from ‘room to room’ admiring the skill with which Major Johnston used flowers, shrubs and trees to develop his concept of the perfect garden. His ideas were entirely original, though possibly influenced by French garden layout where he spent the first part of his life, having been born in Paris of an English mother and American father. He personally collected many plants from Africa and China on a plant expedition in 1927. His many gardening friends also sent plants to Hidcote from all over the world.
In the early twenties he bought La Serre de la Madonna, a property in the south of France near Menton, where he spent the winters and grew all the sub-tropical plants not suited to the Cotswolds. In 1948 after making Hidcote over to the National Trust, he decided to live in France almost entirely. He was a shy and modest man who hated publicity. Of the many plants for which we are indebted to him, only a few bear his name, the majority identified by ‘Hidcote’. He never married and died in France in 1958.