Three Cotswolds Gardens with a Soul

Scouting new gardens is one of my favorite things to do. Quite apart from finding new places to take my travelers, I love meeting garden owners and understanding their vision. I feel lucky to see beautiful places and spend time outdoors, marveling, learning, and being inspired.

Most recently, I traveled to the Cotswolds to beef up my knowledge of gardens of that region in anticipation of tours for next year and 2026. I visited upwards of fifteen  gardens and met delightful and generous gardeners. Here are my three favorites.

Hodges Barn Garden, Shipton Moyne

There is much to like about this garden, which has been in the same family for four generations. The long, swerving driveway through an orchard meadow sets the tone. The house is not a barn at all, as the name would suggest, but a grand converted dovecote. And the garden is equally surprising.


The different garden rooms, surrounded by beautiful waist-high walls of cotswold stone, unfold around the house, rather like the pages of a book. On the sloping lawn by the house, a pond bordered by perennials adds a touch of color, as the water reflects the mature specimen trees above. A small formal garden in front of the house marks the boundary to the landscape beyond. Everywhere mature shrub roses spill their blooms over soft cotswold stone walls.

But what I found most enticing here is the enthusiasm and knowledge of the current owner, Amanda Hornby. Having taken over from her in-laws about ten years ago, she is intent on making the garden hers while all the while being respectful of the past. For instance, she has had the hedges taken down to let in more light. She has also scrapped some perennial beds– better to have lawn than unkempt areas for want of staff.

This is a deliciously lush, peaceful, and charming garden, generous in its proportions and well anchored into the surrounding landscape.

Bywell, Sapperton

This garden seems improbable.

That it exists at all, is a tribute to the determination of the owner, Alex Kininmonth, who has created it from scratch over the past twenty years.


Everything here is slope and stone and reaching the garden is a feat in itself. Very narrow, steep lanes, sharp turns onto not much more than a dirt track, bring you to a brook, on the other side of which is the house. The building is L Shaped, with one part of the house straight ahead and the other to the right. To the left is a steep embankment, all covered with flowers.

Could this enclosed space be the garden?



It takes walking around to the other side of the house to understand: there is a sweeping view down into the valley and to the hills beyond. Taking advantage of this view dictates the design of the garden. A clever infinity pool, set in an orderly, perfectly flat English lawn and framed by a pergola of pleached lymes, sets the stage. A steep, winding path leads down hill, to a series of vignettes, in keeping with the dramatic view. For instance, a giant ball of slate is nestled in a grove of birch. Higher up, a cave of  the same stone suggests the ball rolled out.

At the very bottom is a natural pond, home to a clutch of white ducks – think Jemima Puddle Duck of Beatrix Potter.

There is no room for heavy machinery here, so all was brought in by hand, carted by wheel barrow.

This garden is original and beautiful. It is a tribute to one man´s perseverance to make a corner of paradise in the most unlikely place. An inspiration.

Cotswold Farm, Duntisbourn Abbots

“The most distinctive feature of this garden is the view,” says owner Sarah Biddall at the start of our walk around the garden. And indeed. The garden unfolds around the house, itself built to take advantage of the view, which reaches far across the valley, all the way to the Marlborough hills.

The house, a sprawling rather stern building, is the work of star Arts & Crafts architect Ernest Barnsley in the late 1920’s. His assistant, Norman Jewson, laid out the gardens in the early 1930’s, and his design is still there today. Sarah and her husband are the fifth generation to live here. They run it as a place for religious communities to hold retreats and seminars.

And I could see why this place would be a particularly conducive place to think, to question, to pray. The sweeping view delights the eye and opens the mind. The various areas of the garden, invite introspection: a flight of stairs leads from the house’s terrace down to the main parterre, formally laid out around a central pool. Further down is an exuberant bog garden, fed by a natural spring. Leading back up to the house is the steps garden, with generously planted perennial beds in the shade of mature specimen trees.

Perhaps in line with the current purpose of the place, I felt a strong spiritual dimension in this garden. Taking the stairs down towards the lower parts of the garden, is like walking towards the view, towards the sky, towards the heavens. The garden leads the visitor to turn inwards and outwards, to reflect on life and look up to eternity. The exuberant plantings, the scented old roses spilling over the walls, and the specimen trees engage all the senses.


What do these three gardens have in common?  All three are great in their own way. One is old, one is new, one is historic. But they all have a soul. A garden with a soul is one that will touch you and which you will remember. A garden with a soul is not necessarily all lines and horticulture perfection, it is all about the balance between the gardener and nature, respecting the spirit of place while at the same time making a mark, an ephemeral one at that, on the landscape. I look forward to sharing these gardens with you on my tour of the Cotswolds.


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