Kiftsgate Court Gardens…a delightful tapestry

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The White Sunk Garden, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

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.

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Beautiful unknown rose with giant blooms, and a lovely violet tinge, Kiftsgate Court Garden, June 2017
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Rosa Himalyan Musk almost finished, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017
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Another unusual ruffled Rose, but unknown, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017
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Rosa Mundi, Kiftsgate, June 2017

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.

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Rosa ‘Kiftsgate’, Tostat, May 2017

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.

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Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ and those stunning delphiniums, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

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.

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The New Water Garden, Kiftsgate, June 2017
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The New water Garden, detail, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

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.

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The ha-ha, false perspective and semi-circular swimming pool at the edge of the Lower Garden, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

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.

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The Mound..mmm…Kiftsgate Court, June 2017
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Detail of the Pete Moorhouse sculpture, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey
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View through the Orchard, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017
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The Wild Garden, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

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.









Hidcote Manor Garden: Lawrence Johnston, a man known only by his gardens

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Hidcote Manor Garden, a story of light and shade, June 2017

This lovely view, as if looking through a tunnel into enlightenment, sums up Hidcote Manor Garden for me.  Visiting with friends on one of the hottest and brightest days possible in an English summer, the gardens glowed with all of their manicured elegance on display but the man who made the garden, Lawrence Johnston, was present only as a name on the National Trust publicity material.

Comparatively little is known about him, apart from his immense inherited wealth and his all-consuming passion for plants and plant-collecting- and his creation of two gardens, Hidcote Manor Garden in England and Serra de la Madone, near Menton in France.  He was born in Paris in 1871 and died in 1958 and was buried near Hidcote next to his mother.

Both of his gardens were eventually saved, Hidcote became the first National Trust property to be acquired solely for its garden in 1948, and Serra de la Madone was saved by the Conservatoire du Littoral in 1999, when threatened with destruction by a housing scheme proposal.  Graham Stuart Thomas, of the National Trust, carried out restoration work at Hidcote which led to the removal of much of Johnston’s Italian statuary, essential ingredients in his pursuit of the classical Italian style.  Serra de la Madone has undergone extensive archaeological restoration- and is certainly to be visited.

So there is a lot riding on a visit to Hidcote- arguably one of the finest gardens in the world.  The great joy is that much of Johnston’s work still remains- especially the bold and decisive architecture of his hedges cutting across the landscape, carving space out for intimacy and surprise, and the wonderful views of the Vale of Evesham still remain as borrowed landscape.   Pools and ponds, towers and openings still work to define the space and the experience.

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Looking down the Red Borders to the landscape beyond, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017
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Looking through the hedge opening, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017
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And further in, the room opens out, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017
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Long vistas and the eyecatcher of the small pavillion, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017

But, and you may have guessed that a ‘but’ was coming, I was disappointed by probably about half of the planting.  Some of the ‘rooms’ were in need of much more colour and variety and planting was sometimes, surprisingly, sparse and dull.  Johnston was a true plantsman, whose passion for plants surely should be insisting that his legacy garden is generously and amply planted.  It wasn’t- enough.  Having said that, the Red Borders sung with colour and vivacity, and the famous Long Border did not disappoint at all with repeated swathes of planting supported by the massive clipped evergreen cones.

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The Long Border, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017

Plants that caught my eye and those of our friends, Jill and Colin:

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Stunning blue and yellow combinations, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey
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Eryngium ‘Silver Ghost’, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017
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Primula florindae, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017
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White Astrantia, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey
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Lilium martagon, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey
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Waterlily, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017
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Unknown rose, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

I am not just carping.  It is a great and glorious garden, which deserves all of its acclaim and attention- and that creates a pressure to maintain standards.  Quite right.