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Edwardian Gardens



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.

Hestercombe Gardens

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


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.

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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  1. I would love to visit a nice garden before the summer is out, Hidcote is actually not that far from us.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      I think you would love Hidcote, Marlene, it’s unusual insofar as you can’t see all of it in one sweep of the eyes, so to speak, with all the garden ‘rooms’ half-hidden behind hedges. I loved it but husband prefers the open spaces of landscape gardens such as Stourhead. I like all kinds of gardens, there as many kinds of garden as there are people who made them. A lovely garden to visit – again, which husband wasn’t as keen on as me – is the late Margery Fish’s garden at East Lambrook Manor in Somerset. In Devon, I just love the gardens at Cadhay in East Devon. This is a privately owned garden but is open during the summer months on a Friday afternoon (or it used to be; best check their website if you intended visiting.)

  2. What an interesting and informative post, thank you Margaret.

    Like you, we have rain today and with the chill wind it feels more like Autumn than mid-summer! That said it’s a welcome change after the weeks of drought and high temperatures.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Glad you have enjoyed the Edwardian Gardens post, Elaine. I enjoyed researching it, some time ago now. Yes, it’s like early autumn here today, but as it’s still only the end of July perhaps there will be more ‘summer’ to come? But the lower temperatures and the rain have been more than welcome!

  3. You mentioned Barrington, Margaret, which is looking good just now but visitors might be surprised to find the house nearly devoid of furniture, it’s been left virtually empty and so people can roam around at will without anyone around. It’s nice to get the feel of the house and enjoy the freedom of the building. Away from the formal garden lawns the trust has left the grass to grow like the old meadows, they were cutting the hay last week and baling it with a single hand baler. Lots of bee hives in one area, so a mixture of formal and natural. It’s interesting to see how these old gardens are managed in different ways, nice to read your article about them.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Yes, Heather, I knew about the house being totally devoid of furniture – perhaps I should’ve mentioned that in the post in case readers decide to visit both the house and garden and are disappointed to find the house without any furniture. I found it rather barren, but it’s the way the National Trust have decided to show this property. It’s been almost ten years since our visit, so no doubt things have changed with, as you say, the informal areas left to grow grass like in old meadows.

  4. Thanks for another interesting gardens post, Margaret. We have had weather, the past few days, that seems more like late August than late July. It has been enjoyable as the humidity is way down as well as the temperatures. I’m sure more hot, sticky weather will be coming at some point – this respite is certainly welcome, though.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Yes, the rain has been respite, Jeannine. We’re not used to such hot weather here in the UK, it has been hot for two months and I think many people were longing for a breath of fresh air brought about first by the rain. I am actually feeling chilled this afternoon after so much heat, and I’ve popped my dressing gown over my clothes! I’m now going to return to the sofa and read (the 2nd of the Alison Bruce crime novels, which I am finding very good.) But it’s only the end of July, so perhaps there’s time for some more summer weather before we arrive in autumn/the fall.

  5. Thank you for another garden post, Margaret. I had the pleasure of visiting Hestercombe Gardens when I was on the English garden tour the last week of May. The design of the garden was beautiful!
    Another stop on the tour was at Great Dixter to see the gardens of Christopher Lloyd. The architect Edwin Lutyens designed the remodel of the Manor House with Christopher Lloyd’s father but I don’t think he played a role in the garden design. We also toured the garden at Iford Manor which was quite beautiful. The current owner conducted the tour which made it even more special. He’s the epitome of an English gentleman.
    We are also enjoying a respite from the high temperatures of the last ten weeks. Temperatures usually remain high in Kansas City until the end of September so it’s a welcome break!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      How lovely, Cindy, that you were able to visit those gardens, two of which I mention – Hestercombe and Iford – and also Great Dixter which I’ve always wanted to visit but never yet managed! Yes, Lutyens remodelled the house there and how lovely that the present owner conducted the garden tour.
      At last our high temperatures have gone and we have much-needed rain, it has rained now since Friday night and it’s now Monday morning. I hope we have some more summer, though, before autumn comes.

  6. If I ever get to holiday in the Cotswolds (on my List of Things To Do), I must pay Hidcote a visit. I have been to Hestercombe and really loved it.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Hidcote is lovely, Joy, I’m sure you would enjoy it. Similarly to Sissinghurst Castle garden, the brainchild of Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, it is built up of many garden rooms, so seems very much larger than it really is. Close to Hidcote (National Trust) is also Kiftsgate (privately owned) so you could visit that garden also if you were up for a totally-gardening-visiting day! We ever have managed to visit Kiftsgate, hopefully one day!

      • I love Sissinghurst, it’s an amazing use of space. Not Kiftsgate though. Seems like I really must have a holiday down that way.

        • Margaret Powling
          Margaret Powling

          Yes, there are so many lovely gardens to see, Joy, both in the Cotswolds and in the rest of the south west peninsula, particularly in Devon and Cornwall.

  7. This is so interesting! I know that I would love Hidcote, too. The photos with the wisteria are so beautiful – my garden dream.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Yes, the wisteria was lovely at Hidcote, Ratnamurti. There had just been a shower or rain when I took that photograph, so the atmosphere was crystal clear. It really is a delightful garden.

  8. Eloise (thisissixty.blog)

    I’ve never heard of Barrington House. It looks wonderful. I love to see formal gardens but I like informal cottage gardens too. Some lovely photographs in your post. That wisteria is glorious.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Yes, Barrington House is in Somerset, Eloise, and worth a visit although inside is devoid of any furniture.

  9. Another post filled witt beautiful photographs and many interesting facts. Thank you for all of your research and efforts. There is nothing like that in Australia !

    I’m glad you have had relief from the heatwave. Our winter daytime temperatures continue to be 20-22 deg C. I think winter skipped past us this year 🙂

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      So glad you like the photos, Lara. We are fortunate in having many lovely gardens such as these in England, but our temperature, usually (this summer has been an exception) can accommodate the lush flowers and greenery thatgrows in profusion, making us a green and pleasant land. However, wWith global warming/climate change, we might have to re-think English gardens and plant more for dryer/hotter conditions.

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