A stunning garden, created on a steep slope in the Cotswolds between Chipping Camden and Stratford-upon-Avon, near the little village of Mickleton, the site has distant views to the south and west across the Vale of Evesham. Its gardens make clever use of the steep site, offering a satisfying combination of the traditional and the modern and combining colourful planting with sculpture in a variety of styles.
Kiftsgate Court was built in 1887 by Sydney Graves Hamilton, making use of the Georgian front and portico previously the façade of Mickleton Manor, a mile away in the valley, which Hamilton also owned. Behind the ornate portico, the house is Victorian. The two houses remain linked: there was formerly an elm avenue which ran between the two, inspired by the poet and gardener William Shenstone, who stayed at Mickleton Manor around 1750. Shenstone was also responsible for the line of Scotch firs running on the skyline from Kiftsgate to the Warwickshire boundary, and for limes which bordered the front drive, now mostly fallen.Kiftsgate was bought in 1918 by Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Muir, grandparents of the present owner, Mrs. Anne Chambers. The garden at that time was just a paved and lawned area in front of the portico. Heather Muir was inspired and helped to create a garden by her friend and neighbour Lawrence Johnston, who was busy at the same time creating his own garden next door at Hidcote Manor.
The first areas developed were the upper, more level, areas around the house, with a bridge built to connect the Yellow and Wide borders. There was an emphasis on colour which still guides the themes in the garden today. In the 1930s the steep banks to the south west of the house were terraced, and a summer house built with spectacular views across the Vale towards Bredon and the Malvern Hills, and steps down to the lawn below, where a semi-circular swimming pool was added in the 1960s. The garden was first opened in the 1930s, and has continued to be opened since, with some of the old roses dating from this period.There are two stone sculptures in the gardens commissioned by Diany Binny (Anne Chambers' mother) from Simon Verity in the 1970s, Mother and Child, and Seated Lady. The stone provides a permanence as it ages with a patina of lichen.
The approach from the road above the house is down a sloping drive planted with specimen trees which include a back mulberry presented by the NGS for opening the garden for seventy years, and weeping silver limes, the slopes carpeted in sequence through the spring with daffodils and bluebells. Arriving at the forecourt of the house, the scene is especially attractive in April with the Magnolia, Viburnum and Osmanthus in flower.
In front of the house, below the portico, is a formal garden, divided into four box-edged squares by intersecting paths, with a sundial at the centre. The planting is mainly pink with peonies and salvia, although the pink Rosa Rita has an unusual blue strain running through. The magnificent Georgian portico above dominates this pretty garden, and makes the formal treatment entirely appropriate. Below here the Wide Border is a mix of shrubs and herbaceous plants in shades of pink, grey and purple including traditional geraniums, campanulas and penstemon, with an old-fashioned feel which complements the stone of the elegant loggia up which roses are allowed to climb.At the end of this border, turning back up towards the house is the delightful enclosed White Sunk Garden. This is constructed of stone paths, surrounded by high clipped yew hedging which provides a strong backdrop for the mainly white planting which includes Erythronium, trilliums and Deutzia. In the centre is a raised octagonal pool with a stone well-head fountain and this little garden provides a delightful cool spot to sit and relax.Crossing the Bridge Border, a tapestry hedge provides a screen behind which lies one of the garden's best features, the Rose Border.
A central blue brick path runs the length of this enclosure, allowing the visitor to pass between the massive borders filled with fragrant roses. At the far end sunlight plays on Simon Verity's Seated Lady, framed in an arch of clipped whitebeam and backed by yew. On the edges of the path are clouds of Rosa gallica versicolor while behind them a mix of old fashioned shrub roses in whites, pinks, lilac and claret ensure the integrity of the colour scheme. Sprawling at the top of the enclosure is the famous Kiftsgate Rose: planted in the 1930s by Heather Muir, this vigorous climber, a form ofRosa filipes, continues to thrive.Be prepared for the next garden, because none of the earlier flower gardens will have led you to expect it. Hidden behind a high yew hedge in what used to be the tennis court lies Kiftsgate's most memorable surprise – the New Water Garden. Pristine and uncompromisingly modern in design, it uses the space with inspired elegance. A dark rectangular pool almost fills the enclosure, bordered by fine grass and a white stone path, while a path of stepping stones designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe leads to a central grass island. At the far end the present owners commissioned Simon Allison to design the fountain, a double row of gilded bronze leaves moulded from a philodendron, mounted on stainless steel stems which drip water into the still dark pool. The result is mesmerising.
Leaving the water garden, and walking back up towards the house, the long Yellow Border displays a rich combination of yellow roses, underplanted with hostas and set off by tall deep blue of delphiniums. At the top, turn right and you will find a path running down the steep wooded bank, past Simon Verity's Mother and Child, with cyclamen flowering around their feet in August and September. Scots pines frame the view of the village of Mickleton in the valley below. Continuing down this path, there are huge Monterey Pines nearly a hundred years old. A terrace runs along the bank, on which stands a summerhouse with a swing seat for relaxing to take in the views acoss the valley and the lawn below bordered with lilac and tree paeonies, with a little temple in one corner and the semi-cicular dark pool set on the edge of the hill, reflecting trees and sky. Climbing back up the bank to the house, the woodland is rich and cool.Situated next door to Hidcote, the gardens at Kiftsgate make a fascinating contrast, and can be seen in a combined trip, so do not miss the opportunity.