Cotswolds Diary, Day 4(th of July!)

As I settle in – and am not yet quite – I did want not to miss a return to Hidcote, and my friend Jonathan (MFJ) wanted to go, too. As a side note, happy to report that in driving there (he offered but I wanted to practice) I only hit the curb once, though MFJ did gasp more than once at close calls. So I’m improving. But back to Hidcote:

The house itself is an impressive old priory that became a farmhouse and then a gentile country house that today is neither grand nor fancy inside. But it is a perfectly picturesque backdrop to the the 10+ acre garden. 

Hidcote is one of my favorites in part because although it is sprawling and amazing, you can get your head around it. You could almost see yourself pulling it off if you had the vision and the land and 30 years to do it in, which I suppose is to say that it feels almost “real” and somewhat accessible. I feel this way too about another favorite, Sissinghurst, and actually most of the great Arts & Crafts gardens, come to think of it, which I suppose is part of their tremendous appeal. Unlike, say, Versailles, which is also appealing but in a different way.

And it wasn’t a duke or an earl (though nothing wrong with either), but an American and a soldier who  became a naturalized British citizen who created it, Major Lawrence Johnson.

Major Johnson  bought the 300-some acre estate on behalf of his mother (also American) and over the ensuing decades he created this glorious series of hedged garden rooms, wild blowsy borders, meandering paths, a pool, topiaries, pavilions, wonderful old trees, and sweeping vistas.

The garden also exceptionally comprises a collection of plants from all over the world that Johnson himself hunted and gathered and took pleasure in sharing with friends.

An exuberant border garden room at Hidcote

 In 1948, Major Johnson donated the  property to the National Trust and lived another 10 years to see his garden and legacy thrive. 

One more thing: My fave element is the giant bird topiaries at the entrance to the pool. I was shocked to learn of their drastic haircuts, however. The bases had become so large that people (some having got large themselves but also the not so large) could not pass between them. The gardeners report that the topiaries are doing well. Two years later, new growth is abundant.

Here’s what they used to look like:

The topiary birds at Hidcote before their serious haircut in 2021. Photo Carex tours via Judith Sharpe Gardens, via Pinterest.
The topiary birds at Hidcote before their serious haircut in 2021. Photo via Pinterest.
Yew topiary birds at Hidcote
Closer up. National Trust Images via Pinterest

Thus inspired, I (rather pitifully) attempted a lesser version at the erstwhile Bee Cottage. People said the one the left looked like a squirrel, which annoyed me. Though to be fair they had a point.

topiary at Bee Cottage
My slightly pitiful attempt to re-create the Hidcote bird topiary at Bee Cottage. Using custom wire forms, we first filled them with soil and ivy, which did not go well, and then with moss, which turned brown. And then I retired them to their nests…

Meanwhile, Happy 4th of July to the USA from the good ol’ UK. No hard feelings, what…But I did get to thinking a hot dog might be good. Alas my search for 4th of July celebrations came to naught. Guess I will settle for a sausage roll… Hope you enjoyed  Hidcote.

And goodbye to Hidcote…



  1. How glorious! We are at the beach in 100+or- heat! I’m going where you are next year! Pls share your itinerary. I want to walk in your so knowledgeable steps. Enjoy. Happy 4th.

  2. Happy 4th! Although Bangers and Mash sound a little more celebratory – in a fireworks kind of way – I’m sure the sausage rolls were delish. Your inspired Bee Cot-swold-tage topiaries made me smile, as they look a little like the goldish-brown groundhog, I found foraging for bird seed in my backyard the other day. The Cotswolds are charming, and I look forward to reading about all your inspired adventures. As always, thanks for sharing.

  3. What a joy feasting my eyes on this treasure! Inspiration …and your recreation of those topiaries! Wow! I’d have maybe bought the materials and then given up leaving it all in pile in the garage…..Keep those creative sparks sizzling Frances! Happy Independence Day

  4. Hidcote is beautiful! I am loving following your tour! Do you think you will lead another painting class to the Cotswolds next year? If so, is it for all levels or more experienced?

    1. Hi Karen and thank you and yes there will definitely be another painting trip next year. Just beginning to plan now. Will likely be May. Keep on eye out! All levels yes.

  5. I love that you tried the topiaries, even if you felt they were a failure! So refreshing to see a picture (squirrel) that was not IG perfect! Real life.
    I have admired you since the Bee Cottage days

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