Three Cotswold Gardens
In September, I was able to take a three day break visiting gardens in the Cotswolds and what a feast for the senses it is. Kiftsgate, Sezincote and Hidcote, each outstanding in their own individual way, made for an unforgettable weekend.
Perhaps the best known of them is Hidcote Manor Garden – formerly the home of Laurence Johnston and now owned by The National Trust. The first view of Hidcote, beneath the Cedar tree right through to ‘Heaven’s Gate’, sets the scene for what really is a remarkable garden. In the Old Garden there is a heavenly mix of summer perennials with many fluffy, feminine colours and this leads into the White Garden – where white Phlox, set against evergreen box topiary, are complimented by gorgeous billowing clumps of Hydrangea serrata.
The Maple Garden is delightful with Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum Atropurpureum’ as the centre piece, however, perhaps my favourite garden was the Red Garden, which is stunning. Here I saw red-leaved Phormiums and Bananas Musa sp., Aeoniums, red Salvias, Actea, Buddleja, Sambucus, Lilies, Cannas and Purple Sedum.
Hidcote Manor Gardens
Many of the plants are tender and will be lifted and put back into shelter before the winter. Among the permanent plantings in the red-themed borders are purple leaved cherries Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’, purple leaved nut and maple.
Beyond the Red Garden lies the Stilt Garden and growing nearby, Paulownia tomentosa which has been pruned heavily in order to produce large architectural leaves. The stilted hornbeam hedge is trimmed meticulously and has perfectly flat sides and tops, with the base of each tree pruned clear of any foliage to almost head-height, allowing you to stoop down a little to gain access to the inner area of the hedge.
The Upper Stream Garden has a dry south-facing slope where Agapanthus grow. This slope gradually gives way to lush foliage plants such as hostas, Royal fern Osmunda regalis and Skunk Cabbage Lysichiton sp. all planted near the stream.
It was the perfect peaceful, tranquil place to hide away on a busy visitor day.
There is much to see and admire at Hidcote and I would thoroughly recommend you visit, as there is something to inspire all year-round.
My next visit was to Kiftsgate Court Gardens, which is literally across the road from Hidcote. It is owned by Anne and Johnny Chambers and what a delightful and charming place it is, a sublime mix of intimate gardens, water features and woodland.
When you first walk into the garden, you come across some fantastic plantings of Salvias, Lobelias, Lilies, Dahlias, Thalictrum, Chocolate Cosmos, all gorgeous colours and working so well together.
In fact, the key to the success of this garden is its fantastic colour combinations, for example in one of the borders you have a red theme with Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, Roses, Lilium, Cotinus and Penstemon. Another colour-themed triumph is a hedge of Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ planted just opposite the tea room.
Kiftsgate is famous for its Kiftsgate rose which is a rambler … and what a rambler! It is absolutely enormous. On the day I visited it had more or less finished flowering but you could see the extent of its growth right to the top of a nearby mature copper beech!
All really good gardens are able to convey the art of surprise and Kiftsgate is no exception. I turned a corner at the end of the garden and came across the most beautiful feature. An enclosed area which was originally a tennis court and now turned into one of the most tranquil modern gardens I have ever seen (see the photograph). The garden is surrounded by a Yew hedge with a smaller hedge directly in front. In the centre there is a rectangular pool with a square of lawn which appears to be floating in the middle of the water. This is accessed by stepping stones.
At the far end of this expanse of water there is an absolute masterpiece of a water feature...24 stainless steel stems, surmounted with leaves modelled on Philodendron. Each leaf has been gilded bronze and from their tips water trickles down and drips into the pool sending gentle ripples across its surface. When the wind blows, the stems sway gently in the breeze.
This garden is so far removed from the rest of the garden in terms of its modernity, serenity and tranquillity, but works perfectly. I could have sat there in quiet contemplation for hours. I loved it.
My final visit was to Sezincote (the name is derived from Cheisnecote – ‘the home of the oaks’) which has a mixture of Hindu and Muslim features and it is this which gives Sezincote its unique appeal. It is influenced by the architecture of Akbar who was one of the Mogul Emperors from 1556 to 1605. He mixed Islamic and Hindu elements in architecture in an effort to integrate culturally the diverse country of India that his ancestors had conquered.
The property is approached across ancient parkland studded with centuries old oaks. The first view is of the verdigris dome atop the main house. At its heart and because of the Mogul influences, the centrepiece of the garden is a Paradise garden...Persian Islamic, not Indian. Lady Kleinwort had the South Garden laid out with canals and rows of Irish yews in 1965 copying the traditional ‘Paradise Garden’ which is perhaps most recognised from the garden in front of the Taj Mahal in India. The canals or paths dividing the garden into four equal parts represent the four rivers of life and their crossing, marked by an octagonal fountain, is a symbol of the meeting of humanity and God. The Prince Regent who visited Sezincote in 1807, was so inspired by the house that he had plans drawn up for an Indian exterior to the Brighton Pavilion.
Overlooking the Paradise Garden is a magnificent Orangery, designed with Hindu-influenced peacock fantail glass above the doors. Inside, the conservatory walls are adorned with tender Abutilons, Jasmine and Fuchsias and a collection of ferns and large leaved Persian Ivy can be seen in a mirrored, shady recess.
A unique and atmospheric feature of any visit to Sezincote, is the opportunity to take tea in the Conservatory, which of course I did, sampling some delicious homemade cake at the same time! No need to worry about the calories however, as beyond the immediate gardens surrounding the house, are acres more inspirational features and plantings to explore.
To the north, the top pool has a small temple dedicated to the Hindu Sun God Surya. In the pool is a spring fed fountain and surrounding the water are some wonderful plant combinations including Pulmonaria, Macleaya, Arondo donax and Aralia elata and growing nearby I saw Alchemilla mollis and Pyrus Salicifolia.
Following a stream which flows from the pool, you come upon the Indian Bridge. This is a remarkable structure with Brahmin Bulls set upon the balustrade. Beneath, there are stepping stones leading to a lovely stone bench where you can sit, listen to the water and look down to the snake pool with its twining Indian cobra fountain, or back up to the beautiful waterside plantings.
Sezincote, really is a feast for all the senses and it took my breath away. I am sure you will feel the same if you decide to visit here, Kiftsgate or Hidcote. A summer weekend but a season of memories.
Next month I'll return with my Autumn pickings so until then, Happy gardening and garden visiting.