Tuesday, July 26, 2011

English Gardens- Kiftsgate Court

Three Generations of Women Gardeners

Almost directly across the road from the world famous Hidcote Manor gardens, near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, is the entrance to Kiftsgate Court. Although sometimes overshadowed by Hidcote, Kiftsgate is no mere doorstop for its more famous neighbor.  The gardens at Kiftsgate Court rank right up there with the finest English gardens.  They are gardens noted for their fine detail and rich tapestry of color.  But what really distinguishes Kiftsgate is its uninterrupted stewardship by three successive generations of women gardeners.

Heather Muir
The gardens at Kiftsgate were begun by Heather Muir, shortly after the Muirs purchased the property in 1918. The Muir family became close friends with Lawrence Johnston, the American who created Hidcote Manor gardens next door, and there is no doubt that he influenced the initial design and layout of the gardens at Kiftsgate. Nevertheless, Kiftsgate is truly singular and has put its own stamp on the world of gardening.

'When my grandparents bought Kiftsgate just after the Great War the only garden was a paved area in front of the Georgian portico which led down to a wooded hillside.  Although my grandmother Heather Muir had no horticultural training she soon decided to create a garden and laid out the upper areas surrounding the house.  Hedges were planted, paths laid and a bridge built to connect the Yellow and Wide borders.  Color played a large part in her design and even now ninety years later, her original ideas guide our planting.'
                                       Anne Chambers

For me, one of the most amazing features of Kiftsgate is the steep hillside to the south west of the house. It seems like an impossible hillside on which to garden. Yet here, under huge Monterey pines, that are now over 100 years-old and suck almost every bit of available moisture from the soil, are well maintained gardens containing many shade and drought tolerant plants like cistus, rosemary and ceanothus.  The establishment of these gardens was first tackled by Heather Muir in the early 1930's using a team of Italian gardeners who terraced the hillside and built the summerhouse and lawn at the bottom of the steep slope.

The view from the bottom of the steep hillside.  Kiftsgate Court is at the top and the
summer house midway.
The garden continued to grow under the leadership of Diany Binny, Heather Muir's daughter.  During the 1960's she added the semi-circular pool in the lower garden, commissioned several sculptures by Simon Verity, and redesigned the White Sunk Garden.

The semi-circular pool added by Diany Binny in the lower garden
Diany Binny's daughter, Anne Chambers, is the third generation to take the helm at Kiftsgate.  Along with her husband Jonathan, she moved into Kiftsgate in the early 1980's and continues to carry on the family tradition of gardening today. During the late 1990's, Anne Chambers converted an old tennis court into a contemporary water garden with a fantastic water sculpture by Simon Allison.

'It is a pleasure... to report that the next generations hand is no less firm and their eyes no less discerning.  The tapestry is richer and rarer than ever'
        Robin Lane-Fox 2003

The water garden and Simon Allison's twenty-four stainless steel stems topped with
gilded bronze leaves moulded from a philodendron.  They sway gently in the wind
as the sound of water gently drips off the leaves.

Kiftsgate is, without a doubt, a creation of the twentieth century.  However, when visiting, you immediately get the feeling that the gardens here are dynamic and fluid; gardens that have been molded over time by the hands of three generations of women who appreciate and understand the horticultural history of the place. Yes, there is a certain adherence to tradition, but these are not a series of historic gardens forever cast in amber. As the gardens enter the twenty-first century, they are being added to and enhanced, changing right along with the lives of their owners; a characteristic all great gardens have in common.

The Entry Drive 

I loved this huge Davidia involucrata (handkerchief or dove tree) at the entry parking area that was just in the process of shedding all its "tissues."

The Four Squares and Terrace

Although the design is formal and edged in box, many of the plantings here are very
informal.  There are clumps of peonies adjacent to varying leaf  textures of Salvias
and Buddleia crispa.

The Magnolia delavayi that covers the wall was planted by Heather Muir.

The Wide Border

The main summer plants here include geraniums, campanulas, penstemons, phlox,
ceanothus and tender salvias.  Several clumps of Dictamus albus purpureu are within
the borders.  Roses are also featured here including Bengal Scarlet, Nathalie Nypels,
and Penelope.  
Dictamus albus purpureus, whose oily seed heads can be 
ignited without harming the plant.

The White Sunk Garden

The Rose Border

Looking through a hedge of copper beech along the rose border to an arch of clipped
Sorbus aria "Lutescens' that frames a statue sculpted by Simon Verity
A gorgeous little hedge of Astilbe 'Sprite' bordered
a path that skirted the edge of the rose garden

The Yellow Border

This is mainly a foliage border of varying shapes and textures intermingled
with herbaceous plants of blue, yellow and orange.
The North Borders and Scotch Firs

This Simon Verity sculpture of mother and child looks out over the Vale of Evesham.

For more images from Kiftsgate, taken the week of May 8th, 2011, click here.

For more information on the gardens at Kiftsgate Court you can visit their website by clicking here.

To see more Featured Gardens, click here.


  1. Hi Joe,
    Your pictures are amazing! When I was at Hidcote, Kiftsgate was closed. I must go see it when I head that way again! Thanks for all the history too.

  2. Thank you, Helen! Yes, you should definitely try to see it on your next trip over there.--Joe


Thank you for your comments!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...