Hidcote Manor Garden
It is Sunday morning, and after weeks of very hot weather we now have rain! The garden looks a mess, certainly not like the wonderful deep borders in Hidcote Manor Garden, in the Cotswolds, which I photographed some years ago. As readers have enjoyed my two pieces on Georgian Gardens, and on Walled Kitchen Gardens (plus a piece on Suburbia), here is my piece on Edwardian Gardens which I hope you will also enjoy.
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Sandwiched between the end of Victoria’s long reign and the shadow which fell on the world in 1914, the Edwardian era was a period of unprecedented changes in every aspect of life and that included gardening.
The Edwardian period saw the English country garden come into its own, a period during which wealthy owners of large country gardens invested in both structure and planting. Inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement and the work of architects like Edwin Lutyens, the gardens benefited from strong architectural frameworks, softened by exuberant planting. It was truly a golden age of gardening.
Two styles of garden
At the turn of the 20th century there were two main styles of gardening. Victorian gardener, William Robinson (1839-1935) decided, says John Anthony (in Discovering Period Gardens), that it was “high time to go back to the plant itself as the source of inspiration in the making of a garden. Even the word ‘design’ was rejected by him, the plants together making up the garden.” In short, he advocated the wild – or plantsman’s – garden.
Robinson, in his extensive writings, expressed his views in what has been described as a “dogmatic manner.” These views were challenged by Sir Reginald Blomfield (1856-1942), a distinguished architect. He took up the cause of the formal garden (indeed, it is possible that he was the first person to have used the term ‘formal’ garden.) To him gardens were high art: the hand of man must be everywhere in the garden with plants doing little more than supplying the filling between the various architectural features.
Lawrence Johnston and Hidcote Manor Garden
Whilst protagonists of the two main gardening styles could not see any common ground, others saw that the very contrast between the wild and the formal offered scope for yet anther style of gardening, one in which the whole area might be divided into a number of unequal size ‘rooms’, the larger ones devoted to wild or natural gardening, the smaller ones laid out along formal lines, each connected by paths and vistas. Perhaps the best known example of this kind of garden is at Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire, where a series of enclosures of varying size and scale are formed by high hedges, each with its own strongly marked character.
Green ‘walls’ at Hidcote Manor Garden to enclose garden ‘rooms’
Hidcote was the creation of Lawrence Johnston who, with his mother, the wealthy Mrs Gertrude Winthrop, arrived in Gloucestershire in 1907 when Johnston was 35. Not only was he a devotee of the Arts & Crafts movement, he was also a great plant collector, subscribing to expeditions. He would himself travel great distances – for example to South Africa and to the Atlas Mountains – in search of unusual and exotic species to add to his ever-growing collection and several plants have been named after him, including a climbing rose, a fuchsia, a verbena, a penstemon, a lavender and Hypericum ‘Hidcote’.
‘Pleached’ trees make an interesting feature at Hidcote
Wisteria, just after a shower or rain, at Hidcode Manor Garden
A white wrought-iron bench underneath a white wisteria at Hidcote Manor Garden
Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens
Whilst the arguments for and against wild or formal gardens rumbled on, according to Anna Pavord (in Hidcote Manor Garden) the age was actually dominated by the architect Edwin Lutyens and the partnership he formed with the much older plantswoman and gardener, Gertrude Jekyll. Indeed, an afternoon in 1889 is of significant importance to garden historians: it was then that Miss Jekyll visited a friend, Mr Harry Mangles of Littleworth (one of the pioneers of rhododendron growing).
“On this occasion there was another guest who was to prove of special interest, a young man aged twenty working nearby on his first architectural commission,” said the late Betty Massingham (in Gertrude Jekyll). It was Edwin Lutyens whom Miss Jekyll must have liked as she invited him to tea with her at Munstead the following Saturday. The friendship and the architectural and horticultural collaborations that followed are now legendary.
One such collaboration between Lutyens and Jekyll was at Hestercombe, on the southern slopes of the Quantock Hills in Somerset. Here, a landscape garden had been created by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde in 1750, but in 1903, Sir Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to design a new Formal garden.
Hestercombe Gardens, Somerset (courtesy of the guide book)
(The day we visited Hestercombe (1) I forgot to take my camera (!) and (2) it absolutely poured with rain, so I wouldn’t have been able to take suitable photographs anyway)
Lutyens was given free reign to his considerable powers of imagination,” says Philip White, the Chief Executive of what is now the Hestercombe Gardens Trust; White’s project was to restore the gardens to their former glory and in this he is succeeding. “In a relatively small area he [Lutyens] developed an extraordinary intricate design which, together with his sophisticated use of space, created a garden that is both intimate and stately.”
Hestercombe Gardens, Somerset (courtesy of the guide book)
For this formal garden (established between 1904-1908) Jekyll, who grasped the need for design in the arrangement of one plant with another, skilfully relieved the flatness of the Great Plat with, in early summer, elegant white lilies, blue delphiniums and paeonies which, in July and August, were superceded by red cannas and gladioli, underplanted by vibrant phlox. Typical Lutyens features include raised walks bisected by rills, and straight lines are broken by stone-edged pools which control the water flow and provide planting places for water loving plants. Hestercombe has been said to mark the peak of the Lutyens/Jekyll collaboration.
At another Jekyll garden, Barrington Court in Somerset – the first large country house to be purchased by the National Trust – the Trust has been restoring the gardens to the original Jekyll design, using her planting schemes.
Barrington Court (National Trust, Somerset)
Barrington Court (National Trust, Somerset)
An iris border, Barrington Court (National Trust, Somerset)
The Italian Job
“The inherent beauty of the Italian garden lies in the grouping of its parts, in the converging lines of its long ilex walks, the alternation of sunny open spaces with cool woodland shade, the proportion between terrace and bowling green, or between the height of a wall and the width of a path.” wrote Edith Wharton in her book, Italian Villas and Gardens, in 1904. She was a neighbour of Lawrence Johnston’s in France, where he enjoyed winters at his ‘other’ garden, Serre de la Madone, near Menton and, at Hidcote – especially in the ambitious Long Walk reaching to the distant horizon – it is easy to see the Italian influence.
So whilst wild or formal gardens predominated in Edwardian times, there were plenty of gardeners who were “extolling the virtues of the Italian style,” says Pavord, “the most eclectic being Sir George Sitwell, who created an important garden at Renishaw in Derbyshire and who published his Essay on the Making of Gardens, the fruits of his own research in 200 Italian gardens, in 1909.”
Another architect-gardener and advocate of the Italian style was Harold Peto (1854-1933.) He was the 8th child (of fourteen children) of Sir Samuel Morton Peto of Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk. He began his career by qualifying as an architect; amongst his assistants was the young Edwin Lutyens. Peto was particularly attracted by the charm of old Italian gardens, where flowers occupied a subordinate place amongst the majestic cypress trees, the statues and the pools, and it is easy to see the Italian influence at the Peto Garden at Iford Manor in Wiltshire which was Peto’s home from 1899 to 1933.
(Unfortunately I do not have any photos of Iford Manor Garden, a garden we have not – as yet – visited)
The garden comes to town
The high demand for houses in the first part of the 20th century resulted in many more homes for the middle-classes being built on the fringes of towns. Suburbia had arrived [see my previous post on the History of Suburbia] along with houses with back and front gardens. Indeed, a house with a front garden now distinguished its owner as middle and not lower class.
However, concern for the number of people being squeezed into town and city gave rise to the Garden City Movement. In Garden Cities of Tomorrow, Ebenezer Howard explained his philosophy for a Garden City, with fresh air, sunlight and breathing space. His philosophy was turned into reality with, in 1902, the first garden city: Letchworth, in Hertfordshire, where low-density building, avenues of trees and country greens surrounded by cottages complemented the rural theme.
And thus gardening became a pastime for all. It was no longer a preserve of the wealthy for pleasure or the poor for necessity. Greenhouses and conservatories were popular, practical gardening books proliferated, and nurseries and seed merchants, dare I say it, mushroomed. Indeed, many of the large commercial nurseries were commissioning plant hunters to find new specimens for propagation and sale and The Royal Botanical Garden at Kew was overseeing the movement of plants throughout the British Empire. From those plants evolved the range and variety of plants that are now available to gardeners today.
Edwardian Gardens by Anne Jennings, published by English Heritage in association with the Museum of Garden History
Gertrude Jekyll by Betty Massingham, published by Shire Publications
Discovering Period Gardens by John Anthony, published by Shire Publications
Hidcote Manor Garden by Anna Pavord, published by the National Trust
Hestercombe Gardens An Illustrated Guide, published by the Hestercombe Gardens Trust
Gardens of the National Trust by Stephen Lacy, published by the National Trust, 1996
EDWARDIAN GARDENING BOOKS TO COLLECT
Gardens of England, painted by Beatrice Parsons, Described by E T Cook, published by A & C Black, 1908
Beautiful Gardens, How to Make and Maintain Them by Walter P Wright, published by Cassell, 1907
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Until next time.