The gardens at Hidcote Manor are now open over the weekends during the winter. I’m so pleased the National Trust has decided to do this as it gives the opportunity to appreciate the bare bones of the garden without the distraction of the beautiful flowering borders and leafy trees.
Lawrence Johnston was the man responsible for the creation of the garden. In 1907 he began building a series of ‘garden rooms’, divided mainly by yew hedging. The Arts and Crafts philosophy was a major influence in Johnston’s designs, of which topiary plays an important part.
Between 1907 and 1914 the Fuchsia garden and the Bathing Pool Garden were created. Dividing these two were placed two topiary birds on tall, columnar yew plinths, as can be seen in the photo from 1910 below;
The original topiary design looks like a peacock with their distinctive fan tail. Move forward 110 years to 2020 and the yew birds are still there, perched proudly on their same yew plinths. The only difference is that they have put on a little weight and developed a more squirrel like appearance (not unusual with topiary birds of this age). But the birds still retain all the charm of the original topiary and are one of the main reasons I enjoy revisiting the garden every year. The photo below is from the Pool Garden side, whereas the original photo is from the Fuchsia Garden.
The topiary birds today are in remarkably good condition after 110 years of regular clipping. Actually that is not strictly true as it is probably 106 years because Lawrence Johnston bravely fought in The Great War between 1914 to 1918. Work on the garden during this time ceased and maybe one of the reasons why the shape of the topiary birds developed into how we see them today. It would be interesting to find more photos through the decades to see how their shape has changed.
One or two bare patches and twiggy areas are now showing on the birds but this is totally understandable considering their age. It’s testament to how well they have been looked after by the National Trust gardeners and volunteers since they took over management of the garden in 1948. After all, I am fast approaching my half century and bare patches have definitely started appearing on top of my head. So I do feel a certain kinship with these magnificent yew topiary birds.
If you are in the North Cotswolds area in winter then I definitely recommend a visit to Hidcote Gardens. The flowers may not be in bloom but this is replaced by the opportunity to see the framework of a stunning Arts and Crafts garden, and admire the design skill of Lawrence Johnston. Also say hello to my two yew topiary bird friends, who hopefully will still be chattering away to each other in another 100 years time.