Serre de la Madone – Johnston’s ‘other’ Garden

One of the most exciting parts of our recent visit to the French and Italian Rivieras was the opportunity to visit Lawrence Johnston’s ‘other’ garden, Serre de la Madone’. World War One had left Johnston with a severely damaged lung which made the cold and damp winters at Hidcote almost unbearable. In 1924 Johnston and his mother, Gertrude Winthrop, purchased La Serre near Menton, France, and thereafter would spend their winters here, returning to Hidcote each spring. Mrs Winthrop died in 1926, leaving Johnston free to unleash his creativity on a garden which until then had been a terraced, south-west facing slope planted with lemon and olive trees and vines. Like the garden at Hidcote, La Serre is divided into compartments with hedges and walls, but the terracing and mountainous setting give the garden a very different character. The planting is very different too – Johnston went on numerous plant hunting expeditions to South Africa, Mexico and Yunnan, China, bringing plants back for the garden at La Serre which could never have been grown outside in Hidcote’s much cooler climate. Following Johnston’s death the garden changed hands several times, becoming sadly neglected until in 1999 Conservatoire du Littoral acquired the garden and instigated a gradual process of restoration. The photos below are of the garden at La Serre, of stunning views out from the garden, and of the town of Menton, above which lies Serre de la Madone.

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