An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 129

Clinton Howell Antiques - May 24, 2021 - Issue 129
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
The trip that took me to Attingham (last week's Issue) also took me to one of England's more sublime gardens and, believe me, that is saying a great deal. Hidcote Manor Garden is located near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire and I must admit that I stopped there because a gardening friend had rhapsodized about it to my wife. I found myself roving the wilds of western England having visited Attingham, Chirk Castle and Powys and on the return to London. I saw the name Hidcote, read about it and remembered the words of praise and thought I would drop in. It happened to be on the longest day of the year and the garden closed one hour before sunset which was at 9:36 on June 21st. (No, I looked that time up, I didn't remember it.) That meant that I could get there as late as 7:30 to get a good look around and that is roughly the time I arrived. If you ask me why the garden was sublime, I might admit that walking around a garden in the late afternoon sun of an English spring/summer day is about as sublime as you will get.

For m, it is the architecture of Hidcote that is so memorable. The man who created the garden, an American named Lawrence Johnston who, upon arriving in Britain in 1900 changed his nationality to British, found himself in the heart of the Arts and Crafts movement, both physically and metaphorically by living in Glouscestershire. Hence, Johnston's garden is considered an Arts and Crafts garden, although, as a non-gardener, I would have a difficult time identifying those details that make up such a garden. What I did understand, however, is how the garden made me feel as if I were walking in a series of rooms. The high point for me was, however, the allee that led to a gate that went on to empty field. I remember the hornbeam hedges that focused you on the gate and the empty space beyond and which made the garden seem as big as you wished it to be as you looked out on this vanishing point that never quite vanished. Again, it didn't hurt that the sun was low on the horizon and also in that vanishing point. as i say, it was sublime.

I haven't visited a huge number of English gardens so my predilection for Hidcote is based on having been there, and for it being memorable in the moment. Apparently, Vita Sackville-West's garden, Sissinghurst, was much talked about at the time Johnston was creating his garden. Johnston was, by all accounts, immeasurably shy and I rather doubt he visited Sissinghurst, but Sissinghurst is, I suppose, another Arts and Crafts garden as it, too, is all about "rooms" of plants, often with a theme. I have visited Sissinghurst more than any other one garden (save for Kew Gardens which is not, strictly speaking, a garden) and have always found it to be a gardener's garden, meaning a place that gardeners will rhapsodize about for all sorts of abstruse reasons--plant types, in particular which is knowledge above my pay grade. And it is a fun garden to visit, but if you are not particularly cognizant of the precise plants you are looking at, it means less. That is not the case with Hidcote. Hidcote was, for me at least, a fairy land of spaces, the kind of garden a six year old and a ninety year old could enjoy, neither with any other knowledge than the pleasure of being in the moment.