Hidcote is generally considered to be the apogee of the English Arts and Crafts garden, though it was made by a wealthy American, Lawrence Johnston. It is very much a garden of rooms, and in that way very typical of Arts and Crafts gardens of the period. I visited in May as a member of Carolyn Mullet’s spring tour of English gardens and the Chelsea Flower Show. The very next day, we visited Rousham. What a contrast! I found this tour so well designed to elicit meaning and understanding, I mention two other tours Carolyn will be taking to Europe this summer, Contemporary English Gardens in Summer in August and Piet Oudolf & the Dutch Wave Gardens in September.
Hidcote is an intensely inward looking garden, very different from Rousham, which opens generously to the surrounding landscape. On my first visit to Hidcote, I felt the excitement of seeing one of the great English gardens. The garden is a complex composition of garden rooms and spaces with many kinds of creative linking passages and vistas. It’s stunning in its complexity and ingenious design.
Nevertheless, recalling that visit, I felt something else too, a quality not entirely satisfying, a feeling of congestion, complexity, at first even confusion, until I gave in to the experience and just walked, making discoveries and connections.
I’d like to compare the experiences of Rousham and Hidcote, but I read something this morning that makes me pause:
“The contemplative, non-dualistic mind withholds from labeling things or categorizing them too quickly (i.e., judging), so it can come to see them in themselves, apart from the words or concepts that become their substitutes. Humans tend to think that because they agree or disagree with the idea of a thing, they have realistically encountered the thing itself. Not at all true, says the contemplative. It is necessary to encounter the thing in itself. “Presence” is my word for this encounter, a different way of knowing and touching the moment. It is a much more vulnerable position, and leaves us without a full sense of control, which is why many will not go there.” – Richard Rohr
This concept of just holding “presence” seems to be another way of speaking of what Keats called “negative capability.” (See my recent related post on Rousham.)
So I’ll exercise the discipline of holding the experience of presence, and show a few images of my visit to Hidcote without attempting to evaluate or judge.
The general theme is how gardens use openness and closure to express meaning, and how concepts of “nature” are revealed through this.
I’m returning to England in July and August and intend to visit both Hidcote and Rousham again. Will the experience be different? I’m sure it will.
My hope is to be mindful and present to Presence.