Sunday, 3 June 2018

Wealthy Gardener's Club

Have been reading a book about Hidcote Manor Garden, near the Cotswolds in England. I watched a dvd called 'The Quiet American' and it was about the creator of this garden, Lawrence Johnston, who apparently was a bit of a plant nerd. His wealthy american parents settled in England where he lived with his divorced and widowed mother, buying a huge tract of land in which he set out to make a garden. The result was about 20 garden compartments filled with different plants and styles. He had a brief army career and then set about making his life's work his garden. He was an aesthete at heart, and could be quite insufferable at times, as he sent out people to hunt plants for them, and labour in his garden doing the hard yards while he wined and dined and played tennis. Other than that not much is known about him as he never wrote about his garden nor opened it to the public.

After his health started failing he moved to sunnier pastures in the south of France, to while away his retirement years, gifting the garden to the National Trust to be maintained, he only went back once to see it. He died in France, never married with no children but he's buried at the church near the garden at Hidcote. He had one brother, but he died young, so no other family in England.

What of the garden though. Well, something on this grand scale of gardening I cannot hope to emulate, at this time the National Trust has 8 full time gardeners and 30 volunteers, and it is open to the public to visit. It has a looong walk, clipped yews and herbaceous borders - the quintessential English garden in the Arts and Crafts style.

What fascinates me is, what drove or inspired him to create this garden? Was it love of plants? Did he paint the garden like Monet did? Did he use the plants for anything? It was never open to the public during his lifetime so he didn't create it for other people. But it was such a huge garden for one person. And why did he have two residences, must have been fabulously wealthy to finance it all, yet it wasn't his money because he never worked ie. held down a real job. Was he more of a collector, someone who just gets the gardening bug and then spends all his inheritance on making a garden? And then just abandon it by leaving the country. I'm intrigued, or rather, mystified.

Aesthetes are strange people, giving up a real job to fluff about with colour and making things that are of no practical use to anybody but to look at. Or perhaps artists are just wealthy people wanting to show off the number of plants they can acquire and how big their estate is.  I don't know. Reading his story it makes me wonder if I am an aesthete but that can't be true as I don't have anyone to bankroll my garden. So sorry I cannot join the elite RHS or Wealthy Gardener's Club. But people say Lawrence Johnston would be rolling in his grave if he knew that his garden now has all these visitors  flocking to see it....