Plant hunting

Johnston supported and undertook plant hunting expeditions around the world.

During the 1920s, when Hidcote’s development was in its final stages, Lawrence diverted his attention to the creation of another garden, Serre de la Madone in France, and to the adventurous pastime of plant hunting.

Prior to the Great War (1914 -1918), plant hunters and expeditions were funded primarily by commercial companies and nurseries, but during the 1920s sponsorship was increasingly provided by syndicates of wealthy garden owners.

The Garden Society

In 1922, Lawrence was elected to the Garden Society, essentially a horticultural gentleman’s club.  To join you were required to own a garden and be actively engaged in the cultivation, increase and exchange of plants, especially those recently introduced.

The Society provided him with a network of like-minded gardeners with whom he could exchange not only ideas, but also seeds and plants. There was also considerable competition to be the first to have new spectacular plants.

10 years of expeditions

Over the next decade, Lawrence sponsored or took part in a series of plant hunting expeditions.  Lawrence’s travels took him to the Swiss Alps (1922); South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) (1927-1928); Kenya (1929) and China (1930).  Later he expressed an interest to go to Mexico but wrote in a letter to a friend in 1938 that he was ‘afraid my travelling days are over’.

He was also involved in sponsoring expeditions to the Andes (1923 and 1925-1926); Formosa (modern day Taiwan) (1932); and the Appalachian Mountains, USA (1933).

The seeds and plants he obtained would go either to Hidcote or Serre de la Madone, adding greatly to their aesthetic and botanical interest. Donations were also made to botanical gardens around the world. 

Each year Lawrence also produced a lists of plants and seeds available for exchange, which he sent to other garden owners in Britain and overseas.

Hidcote in your garden

Many of the plants Lawrence collected are now widely grown; some are specifically associated with Hidcote.  These include species and varieties such as Hidcote Lavender, Hypericum Hidcote, Verbena ‘Lawrence Johnston’ and Penstemon ‘Hidcote Pink’ - so the chances are you may have a little bit of Hidcote in your own garden.