Head gardener from Hidcote in the Cotswolds to speak in Great Barrington


STOCKBRIDGE -- Stand on a smooth, green lane of grass, and the roses grow feet thick and feet overhead -- sweet, wide-petalled. Someone used to roses as single tight buds on a dry stem might look up at the crimson and madder and cream flowers above her, thick with leaves, and smell them on the air, and understand for the first time what all the sonnets were talking about.

Hidcote Manor Garden grows like this: wild and abundant and carefully kept in shape. A wall of mock orange smells intensely of honey -- a double row of saplings weaves together above the paths -- rose petals float in a lily-pad pool -- small streams run along small paths.

The garden has grown for a century in the Cotswolds, in the southwest of England. On Saturday, Glyn Jones, head gardener at Hidcote, will talk with the Berkshire Boranical Garden at Monument Mountain High School about his work in restoring and caring for this unique place.

"The garden is a journey," he said in an email from Gloucestershire, England. "Near to the house the lines are hard, but softened by the plantings, but as you migrate away from the house things become more relaxed, until you leave the formally designed areas and travel through wilderness-style plantings with the introduction of curves to the path, flowing water and more dependence on woody planting with and under story of perennials.

"As you travel around the garden, your eye is pinched, never being allowed to gaze over the next area/ room until the designer allows."

Hidcote's original designer, Lawrence Johnston, was a Gilded Age American who came to England as a young man and served in World War I. After the war, he returned to England, to a farm and house his mother had bought, and immersed himself in an planting an English cottage garden -- a garden made of rooms.

"The idea of the garden room is strong. You feel safer in a contained space," said Dorthe Hviid, director of horticulture at Berkshire Botanical Garden. "You find surprises as you walk from contained space to contained space."

Johnston became known for this blend of formal outline and looseness within, she said -- for the clipped lines of beds near the house dissolving gradually into the dense growth along the stream beds.

The garden he built, over nearly 50 years, was so wholly its own place, so original, that it became the first garden the National Trust acquired to preserve.

But, Hviid pointed out, gardens are not static. A garden, left to itself, will change shape. Johnston gave over tending his garden in 1956, when his health became too frail.

When Jones took over in 1999, he knew that a great deal had changed, and he set out to restore the gardens to what they had been in Johnston's lifetime. But he had to find out what Johnston's gardens had looked like.

"Johnston left very few records," Jones said, "or if he did they have yet to surface at Hidcote. It is said that there was a bonfire and all the records, plans etc. were destroyed. There could be some truth in this, which would account for the lack of records today. I'm sure Johnston was a meticulous man and would have recorded everything. We occasionally find numbered zinc tags in the soil, which would suggest he was recording and monitoring the performance of individual plants."

So Jones has set out to rebuild a living history. He has talked with people who knew Johnston and enlisted Graham Pearson, a volunteer archivist, to comb written records. He has worked from his own instincts, shaped by Johnston's vision. And he has learned from the plants themselves.

"My influence comes from many different places," he said, "but mainly the natural environment. I have traveled into remote parts of the world, sometimes following in Johnston's footsteps so to be inspired by the same landscapes that he was being inspired by. These trips include China, visiting Yunnan and Sichuan, and South Africa and into Lesotho.

"Traveling into these areas, studying how plants grow naturally and relate to the local environment and neighboring plants, helps when arranging plants within the garden, especially in the more natural areas."

He has to plan for his garden over time, for a room that will change as the beech, box and holly hedges grow higher, as plants shade each other.

"In the early days, the area will be sun-bathed and have no real opportunity for shade lovers, but as the structure grows, you will find areas sitting in more shade," he said. "This is a fantastically challenging scenario. But never be afraid to experiment. Some of our best plant combinations happen almost by accident."

If you go ...

What: ‘Back to the Future:
The Garden at Hidcote'

When: Saturday at 2 p.m.

Where: Monument Mountain Regional High School, Great Barrington

Admission: $42

Information: www.berkshirebotanical.org


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