I've always been a huge fan of David Hicks- even in those dark dark days when he was no longer flavour of the month. In the '80's, as a rather precocious schooboy at boarding school, I ordered a copy of Living With Design repeatedly from the local library; even then, with the revival of Colefax and the birth of The World of Interiors, the urbane Hicks look was falling rapidly out of favour. At a lecture and slide show he gave at the V & A, I recall the slight tut-tut of disapproval from the massed ladies-who-lunch who had in the last year or so, suddenly re-discovered the delights of faded chintz, loose covers and Beidermeier furniture.
We've all had a few seminal moments in our lives, and I can say without doubt, that a privileged visit to David Hicks' garden at The Grove, near Brightwell Baldwin in Oxfordshire, one fresh and rainy English summer's afternoon in June, was one of those moments. My parents happened to live nearby; I had seen a sign up on a fence advertising the gardens to be open for a day "to parishioners and their friends". This was an opportunity not to be missed. Brightwell is hardly ever open to the public. And, of course, I was the proud owner of a now dog-eared copy of David Hicks Garden Design; bought for a song from a remainder pile in a grotty late-night bookshop in Charing Cross Road. Within, there were amusing photographs of Mr Hicks (black cigarette holder, breeches, riding boots and bookmaker check tweeds) ordering around a group of exhausted looking workman, JCB diggers and the like as they constructed a grande allée in the seventeenth century manner. Every photograph in the book was in black and white (this was a book about design wasn't it? ) and there was a list of plants that Mr Hicks considered "beyond the pale': Lupins, Delphiniums, Dahlias and Hybrid Tea Roses were all on the index.
The first impression of The Grove was of order, a sense of control over chaos. Immaculate clipped lawns, topiary, pleached lime allées, freshly raked gravel, verdant green, technicolor plants noticeable by their absence. Interesting gooseberry standards growing in painted wooden tubs of a very dark green. A small swimming pool had been painted black (that nasty turquoise blue banished), to look like an ornamental pond, surrounded by pleached limes in the Hidcote manner. Not much William Robinson or Gertrude Jekyll going on here, although towering spectacular and toxic Giant Cow Parlsey, Heracleum mantegazzianum, surrounded a weathered and romantic statue in a wild area off the drive. I can't remember if there was an armillery sphere, but there could have been- this was Draughtsman's Contract territory, it wouldn't have been suprising, frankly, if Tilda Swinton had suddenly popped up- in full Orlando rig- around the corner of a clipped yew hedge.
And it was here that first awakened me to the delights of the Old Rose. The Hicks garden featured a rectangular border consisting of nothing else; in particular the heady, intoxicating scent and velvety subtle textures of Madame Isaac Periere (first introduced in France in 1881) which I am now trying to grow in our tiny, shady backyard garden in Central London. What a contrast to the spikey crimsons, yellows and lipstick pinks of the ubiquitous Hybrid Teas and Floribundas thriving in gardens up and down the land! Having said that, I'm almost of the opinion that the time is right for a Hybrid Tea revival. English garden snobbery makes me laugh. I don't think I can bring myself to grow Angela Rippon- yet- but could the time could be right for Blue Moon, Sexy Rexy or the two-tone Cadillac fins of the American rose, Double Delight?