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Stratford-on-Avon & Hidcote Manor

 

On our way to Scotland, Amy and I passed through Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. The house where he was born somewhere around 1564 is still standing, as is the house in which his mother grew up, and both are open to visitors.

Because Shakespeare was born here, the town has become best known for performances of his plays by the Royal Shakespeare Company. There are a number of other attractions in Stratford-upon-Avon as well, and thousands of people visit the town every year to see the historic sites and watch the performances.

We decided to spend a little time in town, and stuck around to see two of Shakespeare’s plays performed, Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The shows were great, and we were glad we took the time to see them. We didn’t see much else, though. The town was crowded and a little too touristy for our tastes. We didn’t come to England to see the same things everyone else sees. We wanted some variety.

Fortunately, outside of town but in the same area, there are plenty of other attractions. We decided to check out Hidcote Manor and its spectacular gardens. The gardens include a wide range of plants and flowers, and wandering along the paths can fill hours. The gardens are organized into groupings similar to rooms in a house, with each “room” containing a specific type of flower or other plant.

Hidcote Manor’s gardens were started in 1907 by an American, Major Lawrence Johnston, after he moved into the manor house on the property. The house was built in the 17th century, and Major Johnston’s mother bought it for him. Over the next several years, Major Johnston designed, developed, and expanded his garden into the attraction it is today.

Major Johnston was born in Paris, France, and grew up in New York City. In the late 1800s, he went to Cambridge University in England, and in 1900 he became a British citizen and joined the army. He fought in the Boer War and then in World War I, which was when he earned the rank of Major.

He was a great horticulturist, and he went on a number of plant hunting trips to find the most interesting and beautiful specimens to bring back and add to his garden. In 1948, he left England to live on the French Riviera, and donated Hidcote Manor and its gardens to the British National Trust. The gardens first opened to visitors in 1949.

Amy and I liked Hidcote, but we didn’t think it competed with the splendor we’d seen elsewhere. I think Penshurst and Sissinghurst were so perfect that they made it look easy. Now we’re getting a deeper appreciation for the effort that goes into these gardens.

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