Today’s post is a photo journal from a day spent at Hidcote Manor Garden in England. We toured this idyll in the middle of the Cotswolds last September and I never posted the pics. They’re simply too divine to sit languishing on my phone so pardon the year’s delay. As every procrastinator knows, and as I will someday tattoo on my arse, BETTER LATE THAN NEVER.
I am proud to state that the ancient Persians were the first who created the concept of a garden. They planted spaces that evoked their concept of paradise. Their gardens were in direct contrast to the desert surrounding them -- islands of beauty that included shade and water.
The French and the Italians sought to tame nature. They gardened with exotic plants that were made to behave in geometric cages.
And then there are the Brits. Ah, the Brits. How I love them and the way they pronounce “schedule,” like it’s a sort of fluffy slipper. My friend Ali phoned me while I was writing this paragraph, which was excellent timing as she goes crazy, á la Jamie Lee Curtis in “A Fish Called Wanda,” for a British accents. Say the word “queue” to Ali and she turns to putty.
Anyway, we talked about how the Brits are superior in language and in gardening. Is it their temperate climate? Rich soil? Their sublime garden tools? A recent study revealed that the typical British garden is fifty feet long, has ten types of flowers, and a single garden gnome.
Hidcote Manor is a “wild garden in a formal setting.” It is designed as a series of outdoor rooms, with walls of hedges and on this day, a moody sky for a ceiling. Each room is decorated in a different palette of color or style with other structural elements acting as art or furniture. The transitions between rooms are themselves stunning — allées of trees, tunnels of flowers, etc. It being September, the place was quiet, nearly empty of visitors, save a pair of rambunctious children and a woman stealing flowers.
The naughty kids added to the overall charm of the visit, but the woman brazenly strolling with her bouquet of fresh flowers shocked me. Is this common in England, to visit a public garden, and help yourself? I secretly studied her, taking in her practical sneakers and her dark sweater, the better to escape capture? The expression on her face was mild, but what does that tell you? My inner Miss Marple was piqued.
And then I stumbled upon a shed from which you could purchase a loose bouquet of cuttings from Hidcote. Ahhh! Mystery solved!
In the late ‘90s, Audrey Hepburn did a PBS series, "Gardens of the World,” and the episode on Hidcote showed her at her most elegant. I’m no Audrey Hepburn, and apparently no Miss Marple either. But I’m smart enough to understand that a garden in September, just past its prime but with echoes of its former beauty lingering, is a metaphor for middle age. All answers lie in Nature, if we take the time to look.