The Red Borders at Hidcote

A visit to Hidcote Manor Garden had me drooling over the Red Borders again this month. The entire garden is quite lovely but in September the Red Borders are the stars for me. My garden design training usually kicks in whenever I visit a garden. I find myself trying to work out what appeals to me and why. At Hidcote I lingered at both ends of the Red Borders taking it all in. Obviously colour is a big factor in their appeal to me. We all respond emotionally to colour whether we are aware of it or not. I already know that I love the warm shades of orange and vibrant red. But in this case there’s more to it.


Some of the plants are exotic and quite tender. Left outside all year round they would perish. They can only be grown here in the UK by overwintering indoors. If you read my post WHAT SHOULD WE GROW? you may remember that I made a list to show how I select plants for our garden. Back then I was determined to grow only hardy plants. Well I tried! That list was helpful to me at the time. Since then I’ve become even more fond of Dahlias, Cosmos and other Half Hardy Annuals and Tender Perennials such as Scented Geraniums and Salvias. They have crept into our garden as well as into my heart. I must admit that although I’m a fan and a Gardener’s World addict Monty Don still annoys me with his Bananas and Cannas. They just seem so out of reach for the ordinary gardener. But perhaps that’s why I loved the Red Borders.

In the photo below you can see that the borders are almost a mirror image of each other. They are well organised with a tall tightly clipped Yew Hedge at the back, a layer of mature shrubs, one or impressive two feature plants and masses of exotic colourful “bedding”. At the front the borders are edged with short well shaped plants such as Sedum and Purple Sage which help to support some of the looser plants and prevent them from flopping onto the lawn.


I realise that the plants in the Red Borders all have natural compatability. They are not all British natives and they originate from exotic places all over the world… but given the right conditions they can all be grown here. At least during the warmer months of summer and early autumn! They look great together.

Over the years I’ve found several different ways to approach a new planting scheme. By far the best is to grow plants that suit the particular conditions of the garden. So if your garden is sheltered and sunny like our tiny gravel garden with free draining soil then there is a specific group of plants with special adaptations that can cope with those conditions and summer drought. Plants from Mediterranean countries with narrow needle like leaves, aromatic oils and silver coloration to reflect the harsh rays of the sun do best here.

Another part of our garden is shaded by mature trees which creates a mini woodland. We’ve found that spring flowering bulbs and hardy shrubs are the best bet here. Plants with broad leaves to make the most of the available light early in the year such as Foxgloves, Hazel and Witch Hazel usually do well in these woodland edge conditions.


Plants that need the same growing conditions often associate naturally together even if they are from different parts of the world. They LOOK as if they belong together. That’s half the battle. If you can create a bed, a planting scheme or an entire garden that looks as if it just happened naturally then it will be very pleasing to your eye and also to the subconscious part of your brain.

At first glance it looks as if the Red border at Hidcote is stuffed to the brim with tender exotic plants. It’s quite true that barrow loads of tender plants such as Canna, Salvia, Lobelia and Dahlias are planted out into the borders at the beginning of summer every year. These borders look tropical and exotic but in fact there’s a backbone of hardy shrubs and perennials that share some of the same characteristics of the tender plants, most obviously colour and large leaves. Some of them we can easily grow in our own gardens such as Buddleja, Prunus and Cotinus.


In the photo above you’ll see the lovely shrub Cotinus with deep purple leaves on the right and in the middle there’s a purple leaved Hazel Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’ . These shrubs not only provide the perfect background to the tender plants with bright orange and red flowers, they also help to provide shelter and protection from the biting winds high up on the Cotswold Hills.

Even if you are quite new to gardening you can often tell quite a lot about a plant by observing its characteristics and by it’s Latin name. Once you know what group of plants you’re looking for you can home in on those details. For example if I come across a plant with sylvaticum as part of it’s Latin name for example Geranium sylvaticum I immediately know that it’s likely to grow well in our mini woodland. That means I won’t be wasting my time, money or effort buying plants that appeal to me but that won’t survive in our shady garden.hidcote-pots-with-urn

What did I be take away from this visit? The garden at Hidcote Manor lies in an exposed and windy position. Without shelter many of these plants would not survive. Lawrence Johnston the garden creator was a plant collector. He divided the garden into distinct rooms with hedges such as Yew and Holly and Hornbeam. Overtime these grew tall and provided shelter to accommodate his most tender plants. So Hidcote has the right micro climate to support this planting scheme and our garden does not! However I’ve already bought some seeds to try for next summer and I’ll definitely be growing some more tender plants in big pots.


I love visiting gardens. Soaking up the atmosphere is a treat. Taking time to observe, photograph and to think about their planting combinations can be challenging… and yet so worthwhile.

Love GillianI’d love to know about your garden visits.
Have you been to Hidcote? Which garden do you love?

Happy Gardening!         Gillian 🙂



13 thoughts on “The Red Borders at Hidcote

  1. Lucky you going to Hidcote, a beautiful garden. The red border has changed over the years but still looks good. I don’ t remember ever seeing the red bananas there before but they look good.

    1. Yes we are lucky I know. It was the perfect day too. I think they do what every other large garden does… change the plants according to the seasons. The bananas do look good I agree, in the past we’ve seen other specimen plants in these borders. They have the staff to change things around and space to grow and hold large plants until they are required for display.

  2. I do enjoy seeing tropical plantings when I visit gardens. But I tend to stick to the hardier breed here. Experience suggests that I will fail anything tender at the crucial moment and they don’t deserve that!

    1. I think you’d enjoy a visit to Hidcote if you are ever in the Cotswolds Allison. It’s popular but it’s possible to find quiet places around the garden too. I went back to the Red Borders about three times just to get another look. The grass path is roped off as there are way to many visitors now for the grass to survive (180,000+ in 2015) so you can’t get really close to see exactly which plants are in there.

  3. Oooh…. what a clever idea. I like the white garden pushed by all the garden centers here, but a red boarder? Fantastic. Stands up much better in our southern heat and many of the plants shown are actually hardy for my growing zone. Excuse me, I am off to the plant store…..:-)

    1. Yes… It is such a clever idea and an absolute delight to see. I’m very happy that you feel inspired to have a go with a similar scheme in your own garden.

  4. I loved this post. Hidcote is on my list of gardens to visit, but I’m not sure we will get there this year, so it is lovely to read about your visit. Your reflections on the planting are brilliant. It is funny how you have to make mistakes and then finally learn that certain plants are never going to thrive in a particular situation you had marked out for them. I share your thoughts on the banana and canna at times on GW – there is a lot of time spent on Monty’s banana!! But I do like to enjoy plants in other gardens that I don’t grow at home. Thank you for sharing your visit.

    1. You are most welcome Ali. I love visiting gardens and my background as a Garden Designer really helps me to look beyond the colour schemes to see what else holds it all together.

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