by Giulia Chiuso
MONACO. Actually not many persons know that a sort of “red thread of fate” (better, in this case, “green”) is combining three famous gardens. They are the English Hidcote Garden, two hours from central London, the French Serre de la Madone near Menton and, as the green line crosses the French-Italian border, the Italian Hanbury Gardens…
Let’s start in Gloucestershire, where people can visit the Hidcote, one of England’s Great Gardens, designed by a wealthy American who came to England to graduate at Cambridge. Lawrence Johnston knew nothing about gardens while his mother, Gertrude Winthrop, was very fond of gardening. In fact, in 1907 she had purchased Hidcote Manor. The analogy with the Hanbury Gardens, protected by UNESCO, is that its founder Thomas Hanbury died in 1907, the very year in which the young Lawrence was developing a passion for botany, helping to transforming the fallow fields of his mother’s property in a lush parkland. James Barrie had just invented Peter Pan: how can we forget the magic of Tinker Bell, responsible for colouring the different seasons? It is nice to imagine that at that fatal moment the legacy of Thomas Hanbury was a “thought” of harmony, which led Johnston to the Mediterranean coast, where he created another spectacular garden at Menton Serre de la Madone, his residence close to the French-Italian border. At the outbreak of the First World War, Lawrence was a major in the British army; he fought and was so badly wounded that they thought he was dead; he was about to be buried when his companions noticed a small movement of his hands … they brought him to his mother, who welcomed him to take care of his convalescence in the peace of Hidcote Manor.
From that moment Lawrence decided to build his masterpiece there, the first garden to enter the prestigious British National Trust. Hidcote Manor is famous for the “outdoor rooms” that can be discovered beyond the high hedges that protect them from the wind. Every room has its own specific character, its particular atmosphere. From the pictorial herbaceous English borders to the precise typical geometries of the Italian gardens, from the exoticism of the rarest succulent plants to the sensual perfume of sumptuous rose gardens, Lawrence Johnston’s endless search went always to the extreme of perfectionism, bringing him to travel around the world, from the Alps to Kenya, from South Africa to Japan. His expeditions introduced more than 40 new plants in Britain and thanks to that he received three awards from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Over the course of more than a hundred years since its foundation, much has changed at Hidcote. Today, Lawrence Johnston’s spirit lives on through the twinning of Hidcote Gardens with Serre de la Madone, which occurred in September 2000 at the British Embassy in Paris. For the first time between two gardens in Europe, the twinning of Hidcote Gardens with Serre de la Madone allows the exchange of gardeners and plants in a mutual enrichment. In 1948, when Johnston moved to the Cote d’Azur, he described Hidcote as “a wild garden in a formal framework,” a symbol of his own soul.
In Serre, by contrast, where the gardens lie on a steep hill, Lawrence did not have to make any effort to recreate the already abundant wildlife. Besides some “outdoor rooms”, he genially cultivated a kind of English underbrush with the native maquis, in order to preserve it. In Serre, he enriched with new elements his formal pictures thanks to the terraces enclosed by stone walls, which form a perfect transition between architecture and utilitarian wildlife; the central T-axis going from the villa to the large basin is reminiscent of Hidcote, but it is the only symmetry in the Menton’s garden, where the secret rooms come in vertical gradients, discovering from time to time new perspectives and views like the one from the wisteria balcony. In fact, the thing that most unites Hidcote Manor to Serre de la Madone is the difficulty of discovering the “outdoor rooms” and their secrets in one visit only, because every hour of the day and every season have their magic.
Hidcote Manor Garden – Bartrim, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire GL55 6LR- UK
Serre de la Madone – 74, Route de Gorbio – 06500 MENTON – France – Tel : 04 93 57 73 90 – GPS (Lat x Long) : 43.774609300, 7.475282000