It was a blazing hot afternoon when we visited Kiftsgate Court Garden, almost across the road from Hidcote. So hot that an ambulance was called for one elderly visitor, and the tea room was full of hot, exhausted people. The sun was so brilliant that it was almost impossible to photograph some areas of the garden!
Kiftsgate really plays a very different tune to Hidcote. it is an almost phantasmagorical mixture of planting, sumptuous colours, not a spot of earth to be seen as the planting is so luxuriant, and roses that seem to be taking speed they are so large. The exuberance of it comes as almost a visual shock after the care and restraint of Hidcote. And Kiftsgate chances its arm with some wilder areas and two contemporary areas, for which it is to be commended. A garden is nothing if not a growing, changing environment, and whilst historical preservation is needed at times, fossilisation is not the best course. Many of the roses date back to the original plantings made by Heather Muir when she started to create the garden in the ’20s- some of the pink roses were a delightful antique pink, quite different from the more sugary pinks that have been commonplace in rose development.
Of course, there is the famous original Kiftsgate rose, splaying itself magnificently down a long Rose Border and lunging into any trees it can latch onto. At 20 metres high and about 25 metres wide, this giant display hints at why I have to be so vigilant to reign it in in my garden! Heather Muir bought this rose in the 1930s from the famous nurseryman, E.A. Bunyard as a Moschata, but Graham Stuart Thomas identified it as an exceptionally vigorous form of Rosa filipes in the late ’40s and the rose was then named after Kiftsgate Court.
The Yellow Border is a gorgeous blast of colour, using blue and orange to counterpoint the yellow. Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ was a repeating theme, spiked by fabulous deep azure delphiniums in the bright sunshine.
The New Water Garden was added by the grand-daughter of Heather Muir, Anne Chambers and her husband in the late 90s. Making use of an ex-tennis court, they created a cool, modern dark pool, encircled by the existing mature yew hedge, and the sculptor Simon Allison designed a simple, but magical sculpture of copper philodendron leaves, which drips water atmospherically every few minutes. It was an especially powerful experience to sit quietly listening to the music of the water gently falling in the hot sunshine.
One of the surprises of Kiftsgate’s location is realising that you are at height above the Vale of Evesham as you descend the terraced hillside towards the Lower Garden. Heather Muir terraced the hillside with the help of Italian gardeners in the 30s, building her little summerhouse to her own design, and her daughter, Dianny Binny, created the semi-circular swimming pool, which adds such dramatic interest to the Lower Garden. The Lower Garden comes to an abrupt finish looking across a view which creates a tremendous false perspective as the ha-ha leads the eye to believe that you are at height. But when you look over the ha-ha, you can see that you are only about a metre above the ground. Brilliant landscaping.
I think that there is only one false note in the whole glorious thing. And that is the newest ingredient in the Garden, the Mound. A young, but will-be-magnificent avenue of tulip trees leads to an impressive, elegant sculpture by Pete Moorhouse, using a leaf design and Islamic lettering to create a filigree effect. Lovely. But not lovely was the Mound itself, with a lumpy chevron pattern in coloured gravel and four potted olive trees. A bit like an aircraft landing site to my mind.
But, stay with the mood of the sculpture, and follow the path into the wild Garden and the Orchard, two more newer additions, and very peaceful and restful indeed. I loved Kiftsgate with a real warmth, not least because it is a garden made by three generations of women, but also because it has been made with such warmth and abundance, and care. And you can feel that in the mood and the spirit of the place.