“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
– Paul Joseph Goebbels
I come to bury Hidcote, not to praise it? …
Photographs taken by the editor and Charles Hawes, on a separate trip two weeks after Tristan.
Anne Wareham, editor
Last year I wrote a review of Bodnant Garden and looking back at it in the light of what I have seen today I feel a little more favourably towards the silly place. True, it is still flawed to its core but it is well kept and implicit in this is the contract of mutual respect between visitor and gardener. The visitor pays to enter and whilst there treats the place carefully and the gardeners ensure that everything is done to ensure that the design and intent is not compromised by their failure to keep it.
Not so Hidcote Manor.
I did not go expecting greatness and it is important that I admit that from the start. I have never liked the idea of garden rooms but I have to say these ones did not offend me or bring on that monotony of claustrophobia that so many of Hidcote’s copies do. I did find myself trying to peer out at the parkland through a gap in the hornbeam at one point and yes I did smile at the fact that the grass at the gate into the free world was worn bare by the scuffing and tramping of the herd longing to run free. While it isn’t my cup of tea, the skill in the layout of the original design can only be praised and for what they’re worth I’ll add my appreciation to the heap.
Now to release the little man, the chap that sits on your shoulder directing you to failure, mess and mistake, turning your head this way and that to make sure you miss none of the faults and all of the skill. Normally he is like a shark sensing blood in water but at Hidcote he bumped into a dead whale, and looking at his notes he became quite frenzied.
First let us talk about the death. Death is careering around the trees in this garden and no-one is doing anything about it. The magnolias are suffering really badly but there are birches stone dead and left standing and, of course, the Box.
Things die in gardens and gardeners either cure them or remove the bodies, so the gardeners need to get a grip. Pruning is a good tip too and unless someone prunes the apple trees and allows some vigour to return to the blue Wisteria at the end of the long borders they will join the magnolias in the homage to William Kent.
The gardeners here don’t seem to grip weeds either. I heard two of the gardeners talking about weeding and could only think how nice it would be to have so many staff that they can afford the time to talk at length about things they could just have got on with.
Then there is the planting. There are nice plants in here, especially in the lower reaches. But it was the middle of June and there was very little colour and what’s more some of the planting was simply stupid – such as the Crambe cordifolia underneath a Cedar. There was a rose there as well, a miserable floribuna stick, that has probably been withering away for years in the shade. And that is what struck me time and again; years of gardeners walking past and not stopping to think “time to sort this”.
On the subject of roses, some are going to briar which will of course happen but this briar had been pruned with the rest of the plant like a piece of inner city municipal bedding. There was also a strange Hellebore/Ceanothus combination which suggests that somewhere in the garden good planting has come to mean filling the place up with whatever is available. I suppose this is why the unique character of the rooms is degrading as “good doers” are spread far and wide throughout the whole area.
I was aware that some money had been spent here. In the older looking bits of the garden I couldn’t see much as I doubt whether the hateful rockery with its ever so nasty, really nasty, orange stone chippings could have cost more than a couple of hundred pounds.
Then of course I found the Plant House and Long Borders, with neighbouring vegetable barrens and all became clear. That is the seven figure price of mediocrity that has flowed down-hill from this dreary well and into the rest of the old garden like so much embalming fluid.
The notes carry on in spidery black fury but I’ve said enough now. Not everything is awful and some of the rooms are still nice enough but little rooms and hordes of tourists are not an ideal combination. Remember, it was created by a private man for himself and it is no longer a private space.
People talk about the feeling of the place and it does have an atmosphere but it is one of melancholy. I do not doubt there was a great garden here once; I was pleased and surprised to find its echo but greatness must be handled with care, delicacy and empathy and not puddled around with clumsy commercialism and, yes, I think perhaps idleness.
To end – some memories:
A croquet set left out in the drizzle of a Monday morning in a tired lumpy lawn full of molehills.
The smell of the loos.
The buzz of the electric pumping system that runs the stream.
A stand of Cardiocrinums close to flowering but hedged by the nettles and mess of the bee meadow.
Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2013