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Our work at Hidcote

Woman gardening at Hidcote in Gloucestershire
A volunteer attends to the garden at Hidcote | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Covering an area of 10.5 acres the garden takes visitors on a journey through intimate formal areas revealing a different atmosphere or new vista at every turn. Smaller, more formal garden ‘rooms’ near the house, give way to more natural areas that blend in with the surrounding countryside further away.

Using Hidcote as a ‘blank canvas’, Lawrence Johnston designed the garden in phases from 1907 to 1938. He furnished borders with newly discovered plants and exotic rarities gathered during plant collecting expeditions from around the world. It takes a garden team of 13 gardeners and 35 volunteers to care for Johnston's garden today and Hidcote’s garden team is always busy, and no two weeks are the same as the seasons come and go.

The Plant Shelter

Despite several repairs over the years, our plant shelter is being partially dismantled as it is at risk of becoming unsafe.

Lawrence Johnston’s original Plant Shelter was built in two phases during the 1920s and 30s. When Hidcote was given to the National Trust in 1948, the building was already in poor condition, and had to be dismantled. In the early 2000s a replica Plant Shelter was built, following the original design as closely as possible.

Part of our work this year will entail creating a plan for this area of the garden which will continue to honour the spirit and designs of Lawrence Johnston while taking in to account sustainability, energy efficiency and accessibility. We’ll look at all the options to inform what happens next on this important project.

Where possible we will propagate from the most important plants, including our much-loved Mahonia napualensis. Pot contained plants will be moved to the glasshouse each winter for protection, ready to take their place outdoors again in the summer.

Our plan is to keep the space open and planted, with opportunities for visitors to sit and enjoy the area during this interim period. Check back here for updates on this exciting project as it progresses.

Spring and Summer maintenance

In Spring work revolves around the borders, keeping on top of weeds so that bulb displays can be the centre of everyone’s attention. East Court and the Maple Garden, as well as a series of large planters in the Garden Yard, are the result of perusing last Autumn’s bulb catalogues and the displays change each year. The parterres in East Court are edged with low variegated Euonymous hedges whilst the Maple Garden is edged with another green Euonymous to reflect the original box plantings.

Beyond the Old Garden, Scilla fill the beds in the Fuchsia Garden while the Fuchsias wait for the warmer weather and the Lower Stream is a carpet of snowdrops before the Magnolias open to applause across the garden and the Pillar Garden shows off an array of daffodils. Further still a carpet of bluebell flows through the Beech Allee and the trees become a vivid, almost luminous, green of new leaves and there are more daffodils in the Wilderness.

Hidcote’s cold clay soil, albeit cultivated over 100 years, often forces the team to lift and divide in the Spring, amongst the bulbs if necessary and as soon as the weather nods to warmer times plants propagated last Summer are hardened off ready to be planted in time for the Summer display. Similarly, some of the work to the formal grass areas like scarifying and overseeding must wait until Spring and avoid the lifting of tender perennials in the Winter when both jobs can’t be done at once.

The Old Garden is a firework display of Alliums by late Spring raising the beds from their Winter slumber before the true height and flower power of the herbaceous perennials take hold with Roses, Artemisia, Astrantia, Geranium, Nepeta and Phlomis among others, punctuated by tall Eremurus and Delphinium as well as annuals like Argyranthemum and Salvia when space allows.

Like other areas, the Pillar Garden has not been resting either and is now spilling over with Geranium, Campanula, Phlox, and Salvia, celebrating the heady scent of the Philadelphus on the top terrace alongside the blousy tree peonies and surrounded by the tall columns of Yew; recently restored to the scale once envisaged by Johnston.

Mrs Winthrop's Garden, Hidcote, Gloucestershire
Mrs Winthrop's Garden | © National Trust Images/Sarah Davis

Autumn and winter maintenance

By late Summer, the Red Borders full of Geum, Hemerocallis, Salvia, grasses and Dahlia, are backed by tropical leaved red banana and Abutilon along with purple leaved Cotinus and Berberis interspersed with red flowering Roses. With luck, the frosts will be late, and the display will last into October.

Soon it will be time for the team to prepare for hedge cutting, a feat that will take from September to the end of January with four staff cutting each day using battery powered hedge cutters weather permitting. Each swipe of the cutter blades reveals the crisp outline of garden spaces, redefining the vistas and throwing sharp shadows onto the lawns. Beginning work on the Long Walk’s Beech and Hornbeam hedges, work will move on to the Long Borders on the north side of the garden, finally ending with the Great Lawn having cut numerous single columns of the Pillar Garden and Long Borders and topiary birds in the Fuchsia Garden.

While the hedges are cut the rest of the team follows behind clearing borders and collecting hedge clippings at the same time. Once the borders are clear, and before any sign of Spring growth emerges, a good dose of homemade compost will be spread across a number of the beds and borders according to how much has been produced and is ready to use. Soon the Spring bulbs will be chancing the weather and preparing for a new display.

Hedge cutting machinery at Hidcote in Gloucestershire
Pruning is carried out in late summer | © National Trust Images/Sarah Davis

The lawns

Plenty of work goes into keeping the lawns at Hidcote looking lush all year round – even during autumn and winter. The grass plants can damage easily in the cold and wet months, so it’s important that the lawns are allowed time to rest. This enables them to grow back to their finest in the spring.

Whilst the lawns are closed and left to recuperate, we keep an eye out to ensure that any fallen leaves and debris are cleared away. We also aerate the lawns to improve drainage and reduce compaction, which keeps them healthy.

The pruning of the lavender

Most years we prune our lavender the traditional way – very gently. The plants still become large and woody very quickly, and need to be replaced about every 4 years. After a successful trial in a small section last year, we have pruned these lavenders very hard in April. We do expect some plants to die, so we have newly-propagated replacements in our nursery. Most of the plants should come back strongly and flower this year. This should reduce how frequently we need to replace the entire hedge.

Gazebos at Hidcote, Gloucestershire
The Gazebos have been part of the Hidcote garden since 1915 | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey
Bathing Pool at Hidcote, Gloucestershire
Our team has worked hard to improve the aesthetic of the Bathing Pool | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Doing our bit for the environment

Here at Hidcote, we try to compost as much garden waste as possible. Including our cafe takeaway cups, which are collected, chipped and added to the compost to break down. Additionally, we ensure that all compost and plants not supplied by Hidcote are 100% peat free.

The majority of the water used in the garden comes from a natural spring, which we collect in water tanks and feeds our electronic irrigation system. Helping us to monitor and conserve our water usage.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

Old Garden from above in late autumn at Hidcote, Gloucestershire

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