Flying to Heathrow and being welcomed by an immigration officer as tough as if I was an undocumented Mexican trying to enter the US was not a good surprise but as soon as I was on the M4 driving west into the sunset, I felt blissfully happy. At Stancombe Park, Gloucestershire, a magical garden with an 19 th century Greek revival temple was awaiting me. And so started my private tour of British gardens.
Located on a beautiful territory of Cotswold escarpments, near Wotton under Edge, the 50 acre park at Stancombe is planted with yew and boxtree hedges and a grass path leads you down gently to a ravishing temple overlooking a pond. Grottos decorated with shells, a rose garden, trees with multicolor foliage, Chinese follies in the garden, form a ravishing decor for masked balls and summer parties. The owner, photographer Nic Barlow is slowly transforming every gate house and little cottage into beautiful hideaways for the week end. The Temple is mostly a honeymoon « oriental » cottage where dinner and breakfasts are served to young and old lovers. It can be rented and it gives access to the park.
I then drove to Mickleton, a beautiful village near Hidcote manor and Chipping Campden, heart of the Arts and Crafts movement where the museum of Court Barn shows modern artists as well as the originals. The village is full of great shops and manicured houses and Paul and Jacquie Whitefield and I had an excellent lunch at « The Chef’s dozen », a charming restaurant which serves only natural products including fish from Cornwall and Yorkshire rhubarb. I was particularly surprised by the starter, « Crispy pheasant egg », an elaborate sculpture and by the stone bass. The rhubarb soufflé was also a great success.
This followed a beautiful visit of the gardens of Hidcote manor designed by Lawrence Johnston in the early 20 th century, which has developed incredible colours : the Red borders, the very subtle fuchsia garden and the pilar garden were my favorites with the Long Walk and the huge climbing roses. After studying closely the Kitchen garden, I resisted buying half of the greenhouse’s plants and drove on to Oxford for the most fascinating Birthday party at St Stephen’s house, an Anglican seminary and theological college.
Dinner was served in the church of St John the Evangelist with four long tables of 40 ! and was the most elaborate and intellectual function I have attended in years. A recital of French turn of the century Delibes and Massenet songs was with flowing Pol Roger champagne a nice tribute to our country.
The visit ended perfectly with a little trip to Eton where I drove a young student for his concert rehearsal. How much more British bliss can you get ?
(The Temple at Stancombe rents for 300£ a night, 900£ for four nights including champagne and breakfast)
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