ISSUE 7  |  Garage Envy

Brit Style: The Garden With (Almost) No Flowers

February 19, 2014 11:00 AM

BY Kendra Wilson

We all know that structure is good for us, like fiber in the diet. But it is flowers that most people want. The late, iconic British interior designer David Hicks, whose signature look was “simplicity and strength of line,” didn’t have time for flower beds. Structure was all. The garden he designed is still inhabited by the Hicks family and we take a tour to see how this flowerless garden idea works:

Photographs by Kendra Wilson.

Above: The Pavilion at The Grove, Oxfordshire, the garden David Hicks developed from the 1980s until his death in 1998. A community of topiarized, containerized box jostles around the Pot Garden. The pots are bottomless to avoid watering and the gravel has a weed-preventing membrane beneath.

David Hicks’ son, designer Ashley Hicks, explains: “The inspiration was mainly labor-saving but also to give a look of orange trees at Versailles, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.”

Above: This garden is all about vistas and the color green. However, snowdrops have crept in recently, though they are kept under close surveillance and form orderly lines.

“What will never have space in my garden are herbaceous borders,” David Hicks wrote in his 1995 book Cotswold Gardens. “When I plant flowers, they are never seen from the house and will only be used as cut flowers.”

Above: Outside the drawing room, a parterre has been planted where there was once plain lawn. However, instead of enclosing roses and perennials, the rectangles of box surround more box. It looks like a David Hicks carpet but instead of wool, it’s made of shrub.

Ashley Hicks, whose design company includes David Hicks by Ashley Hicks, has a wonderful Instagram account for design voyeurs: ashleyhicks1970.

Above: Inside each rectangular box frame is a mattress of box.

Above: The view from the dining room to the swimming pool. Painted black and surrounded with smooth cobbles to imitate a canal, the pool is the beginning of a sizable horse chestnut avenue that is a third of a mile long and ends in open country.

Above: Farm buildings flank both sides of the pool garden. The whole is formalized and disciplined with pollarded horse chestnut.

It is a peculiarly English tendency to compartmentalize a garden into rooms. The sense of enclosure between walls of hedging and pleaching is important, particularly in gardens which have been carved out relatively recently from fields. This is also true of some of Hicks’ favorite gardens, Hidcote and Sissinghurst.

Above: Years of careful pruning. The horse chestnuts were planted about 30 years ago.

Above: Springing up here and there among the monochrome snowdrops are the all-green stinking hellebore.

A grid of box-edged magnolia fills this part of the garden. The trees flower in spring but the petals are NOT pink, being the creamy white Magnolia grandiflora.

Above: Catkins provide some fluttery decoration in an area of hazel and other nut trees. Because of the strict form and color management, natural ornaments like this really stand out.

Above: One clipped hornbeam avenue leads to another, with a Gothic gate designed by David Hicks providing a break.

Above: Hornbeam is the favored hedging and pleaching plant in this garden, which is essentially a series of sparsely furnished rooms.

Villandry and the great gardens of France made a lasting impression on David Hicks and he was also influenced by the work of John Fowler (of Colefax and Fowler), with his “wonderful hornbeam architecture” at the Hunting Lodge in Hampshire (the current tenant being another celebrated interior designer, Nicky Haslam).

Above: Box cubes hide pots of tree peonies, which emerge in spring. This is the appropriately named Secret Garden, hidden behind old walls and two closed doors (not locked). From summer the walls are adorned with old-fashioned roses, particularly Madame Isaac Pereire, and even cottage garden favorites are planted here: poppies, pinks, and hollyhocks. The Secret Garden is accessed via a small drawbridge.

The Grove is not open to the public, but special visits can be arranged. Details, here.

For England’s most celebrated green garden, see: An Insider’s Favorite: The Bliss of Visiting Rousham in the Cotswolds.