Brook Cottage

In the summer of 2002, I took a memorable trip to visit some of England’s great gardens. My tour group visited such iconic destinations as Sissinghurst and Hidcote, Great Dixter, Kiftsgate and Wisley. As breathtaking as those gardens were, however, equally memorable and special were the private gardens we visited. Most – listed in the famed “Yellow Book” – were open through the National Gardens Scheme, from which our own Garden Conservancy organization draws its inspiration. Here is one of my favorites.

Brook Cottage garden

The courtyard at Brook Cottage

Alkerton, near Banbury (Oxfordshire, U.K.)

Brook Cottage is a testament to the hard work and vision of a gifted plantswoman, Katherine Hodges, and her late husband (an architect) over a period of more than 35 years. Located on a hillside in the west-facing slope of a valley in Oxfordshire, the site originally consisted of rough pasture divided by old hedges. The Hodges originally purchased the site’s 17th century house as a weekend cottage in 1964 and eventually retired there.

Near the house, the landscape has been designed to link level areas of lawn and terrace with the natural slopes and to create enclosures with a series of yew and copper beech hedges.

Brook Cottage

Hostas and nasturtiums at Brook Cottage near the house.

Mature trees and shrubs have grown to connect the garden with the surrounding countryside. There are herbaceous borders, a bog garden, more than fifty varieties of clematis and an extensively planted ‘hanging garden’ of roses, including species, old cultivars, and modern varieties.

Brook Cottage, bog garden

The bog garden at Brook Cottage, with Ligularia 'The Rocket' in the background and Acorus 'Bowles' Golden' in the foreground.

Brook Cottage’s garden is open to the public, through Britain’s National Gardens Scheme, most weekdays from Easter to the end of October. At the time of our visit, Mrs. Hodges tended the plantings herself, with the help of one full-time assistant; I saw her trundling a wheelbarrow near one of the herbaceous borders, deadheading blooms, as we visitors wandered around, mouths open. This is a remarkable, memorable garden, not to be missed. Do visit it if you can.

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10 Comments on “Brook Cottage”

  1. Bernie Says:

    What a stunning garden … how lucky you were to get to visit such a place!

  2. Edith Hope Says:

    Dear Melissa, Your posting today has brought back for me memories of many years ago. I remember visiting Brook Cottage by private appointment [this at the time was the only way of seeing it] and wandering through the garden to the sound of Mrs. Hodges’ playing on the piano through an open window. It was there that I first saw Tropaeolum speciosum growing in sheets over the hedges [incidentally a plant I have never succeeded with].

    • Melissa Says:

      Edith, I came home dying to grow that entire combination of plants. No luck identifying the particular hosta duo pictured, and the Tropaeolum speciosum doesn’t work in our climate. But that is another “plant vignette” that is close to my heart. Brook Cottage – and the plantings in the Wisley Borders, more of those to come – taught me to look carefully at how plants are combined to heighten the effect of the individual components.

  3. gardeningasylum Says:

    Looks like a magical place – I do think gardens made by individuals with a strong point of view are more memorable than some of the big destination gardens. It’s nice to do both!

    • Melissa Says:

      I think you’re right. It’s especially overwhelming to visit a place like Stourhead or Sissinghurst (although they are both very different). One of the reasons I picked Coopersmith’s for my tour was their access to private gardens, some that weren’t even in the Yellow Book, that had been chosen for their appeal to gardeners (the only kind of people on our trip!)

  4. Fran McClure Says:


    I am enjoying your blog very much. While I have not seen Brook Cottage, I did see a number of private gardens on each of the two garden tours to Britain that I have experienced. I found that the private gardens enriched the tour very much and provided a great deal of inspiration. Keep blogging!


    • Melissa Says:

      Fran, thanks for the encouraging words. I hope to do at least one other post about some of the other gardens we visited when I have a chance. But with design season looming on the horizon I will eventually have to cut back to one post a week.

  5. John Says:

    Thanks for the reference. This looks like a marvelous garden to visit. We did a whirlwind visit to Sussex and Cornwall 2 years ago averaging about 2 gardens per day. It is very high on my list to repeat the process with yet more of the stellar gardens in England.

    I’m impressed with your ability to provide details to a visit that you made 8 years ago. You must take very detailed notes.

    • Melissa Says:

      I have to confess that this garden description is taken from one I wrote years ago for a now-suspended website called the British Garden Museum, which featured Brook Cottage as its first “showcase” garden. I did the writeup and provided the photos in this blog post shortly after we returned from the trip so the garden was really fresh in my mind and yes – I had taken some detailed notes! If you ever want to go on a more sustained garden tour I highly recommend Coopersmith’s One of a Kind Garden Tours for a first-rate experience. Their website has an article I wrote for the Washington Post the winter after the tour.

  6. Melissa, what a fabulous garden and to know that they made it themselves from a bit of rough pasture, inspirational. I hope that I can have 35 years at Kilbourne grove and achieve some small measure of sucess.
    A big pain about Blotanical, I realized how much I use it, saves time instead of visiting directly.

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