I recently visited the beautiful gardens at Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire, and there, to my surprise, I found a strange and unexpected little connection to my local area of west London…
Hidcote is a now a National Trust property, and its famous gardens are probably some of the most unusual and inspiring green spaces in the entire country. Created by the Anglophile American Lawrence Johnston in the early decades of the 20th century, the gardens are designed in the Arts and Crafts style and take the form of interlocking outdoor ‘rooms’, planted with a pleasing combination of the familiar and the exotic.
These magical gardens surround a beautiful 17th century manor house, built from that distinctively mellow golden honey-coloured Cotswold stone which glows gently in the late summer sunshine. Add to that views over the spectacular Vale of Evesham, and you get one of the loveliest places I think I have ever visited.
And I’m not alone in that opinion. The writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West, who went on to create her own famous gardens at Sissinghurst in Kent, was quite clearly blown away by her visit to Hidcote:
Since June 2009, a remarkable group of people have been acting as caretakers of a patch of derelict land sandwiched between Kew Bridge, the A315 into central London and the Thames.
This is a busy, congested and built up corner of west London where available land is at a premium, and this site had lain empty and unused for several decades before the eco-villagers moved in last summer.
Now it is a thriving example of sustainable living, as well as being community garden project and home to a fascinating array of plants and wildlife – the latest in a long line of different functions.
The site has always been much more than just a piece of wasteland; it actually has a long history, probably dating back at least as far as the Bronze Age, and mainly because of its central position between the river and a main road. The A315 has long been an central route in to and out of London – it is built over a Roman road and was later also an important coaching route.
There had also been a ferry (and later a bridge) at Kew since at least the 17th century. You can thus easily see how the centrality of the site to river crossings and main roads would make it a logical plot of land to locate a business or build other property, and how this would eventually give it an element of historical significance.