Sir Harold Hillier Gardens – Winter and Autumn 2018 – A time for reflection in the Garden.

The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens are truly  ” Garden for All Seasons. ”

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The gardens are beautiful throughout the year, even when in repose in wintertime, but snow adds an extra dimension to any visit.

Just walking through the garden is peaceful with robins tame and trusting who will feed from the hand, if you keep still and don’t frighten them.  This friendly little Robin adds a splash of colour against a blanket of snow.


Searching for crumbs near Jermyns House in the snow this Robin is a colourful little friend.

Searching for crumbs in the snow near Jermyns House, this Robin is a colourful little friend.

Jermyns House in the snow.

Jermyns House in the snow.

Signs of spring brought a sense of optimism, until the ‘ Beast from the East ‘ struck, temperatures plummeted and sub zero temperatures brought snow over several weekends.  This change in the weather caught out some early bloomers, which shone bravely through the layer of snow.

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With sun low in the sky in late October 2018, music wafted through the trees. In the pre-Halloween trail for children and adults, with an open invitation to make the music themselves.

With sun low in late October 2018, music wafted through the trees. In the pre-Halloween trail for children and adults, issuing an open invitation to make the music themselves.

Making music in the Sir Harold Hillier gardens in Autumn.

Making music in the Sir Harold Hillier gardens in Autumn.

As the soil temperature falls, muting the colours with the trees and plants in the garden entering their winter sleep, the Centenary Border has a last burst of colour. The gardens are about to display a few quiet months, presenting a different aspect.

Whenever you visit there is something special, as you walk through the slumbering beds. Yet even then buds are visible on the Rhododendrons, waiting for the returning sun to awaken the spring growth around them, encouraging them to burst forth and heralding another colourful pageant to play throughout the coming year.

What could be more satisfying, returning home with tingling toes and hands, looking forward to sitting by the fire with hot buttered toast and tea, looking forward to next spring in the gardens !

The Centenary Border, Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Autumn.

The Centenary Border, Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Autumn.

Words & photographs : Tony Knight photography & MEDIA.


On top form, Roy Lancaster, entertains his public.

On top form, Roy Lancaster, entertains his public, producing plant specimens  from his gander bag, like a wizard producing rabbits from a hat.

I recall a younger ROY LANCASTER leaving a County Council office in the early 1980’s, at the head of a small group of horticultural students.  He was like a latter day Pied Piper, animatedly singing, ” we’re off to see the wizard……..” as they disappeared in line from the darkness of the building and out into the sunshine on the way to a mushroom identification trip in the New Forest. As always he had brought some happiness and light relief into an otherwise dully day of office routines!

Having just spent two years producing the entertaining ‘ My Life with Plants, ‘ Roy is still sharing his boundless enthusiasm with friends new and old, on a sold out tour of Hillier Garden Centres in the South during June.

Roy displays his book ' My Life with Plants. '

Roy displays his book ‘ My Life with Plants. ‘ at Hillier’s Winchester Garden Centre.

Now approaching another big birthday, Roy may be taking life at a little more sedate pace these days, but he retains his celebrated enthusiasm, sense of fun and unassailable position as a celebrated plant hunter of our time. His name has been added to the great and the good – Hooker, David Douglas and Ernest Wilson amongst them, who were his boyhood idols. No longer able to undertake plant hunting expeditions to remote parts of the globe seeking exotic and beautiful new species, Roy Lancaster has spent a lifetime with plants.

Like the plants he loves, Roy Lancaster has his roots in the soil.  He hails from Bolton Lancashire.  Those fortunate enough to see him, will be well entertained with anecdotes, horticultural knowledge and advice – and his years of practical experience. True gardeners all, passing round the specimens and potted plants are a real talking point. It appears that as in the word’s of Arthur Fallowfield, Kenneth William’s character  from the BBC 1960’s comedy programme, ‘ Round the Horn, ‘  the answer really does lie in the soil !

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An opportunity to examine new plants and listen to Roy's anecdotes is totally captivating.

An opportunity to examine new plants and listen to Roy’s anecdotes is totally captivating.

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One of Roy’s burning ambitions came true when he first arrived Hillier’s then headquarters here in Romsey Road, Winchester and met his hero, Harold Hillier, when he travelled from Cambridge for interview for a post with the plant nursery. He went on to become Curator of the world famous Hillier Arboretum,  ( now the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens ), before appearing on BBC tv. Gardeners’ World and becoming a member of the Radio 4 Garden’s Question Time for many years.


Roy’s book, My Life with Plants is available at the talks and you can have a copy signed by the well known plant hunter, whose travels have taken him through the east including India, Nepal and China.


Details :

Words and pictures : Tony Knight copyright 2017

Contact :






Rhododendrons in the Garden

Rhododendrons in the Garden

The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens at Ampfield near Romsey in southern Hampshire are 180 acres of sheer bliss. Effectively gardens for all seasons, they are visited for all reasons too.  In my recent visit, at the end of May 2017, I encountered visitors of all ages.  There is plenty of seating tucked away in quiet corners, just far away from each other, yet near enough for short walks.

One regular visitor whom I met in the late afternoon, was sitting under the trees near Jermyns House. He frequently spends a few quiet minutes there after a busy day, wrapped in the peace and quiet, before making his way home more relaxed.  That’s real garden therapy and much as the late Sir Harold Hillier must have done in quiet moments over the years, surveying the work of his labours, as he added to his collection of plants and shrubs.

The Gardens are well sign-posted and supplemented with ' current Interest ' signs
The Gardens are well sign-posted and supplemented with
‘ current Interest ‘ signs
Map of the gardens
Map of the gardens

The Gardens make an ideal venue for schools groups to learn about the countryside, flora and fauna – and for a picnic lunch.

A picnic lunch on the lawns
A picnic lunch on the lawns

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The sandy soil of this part of Hampshire is ideal for a blaze of colour from the far slopes of the Himalayas – a splash of Asian magic, woven into the Garden’s ‘ green tunnels.’

Wherever you wander the landscape changes.  An intriguing and eclectic collection of over 100 sculptures is in the Gardens from 13 May to 15 October this year. Many in the form of animals, birds and insects, they are sculpted from metal, ceramics, wood and various other mediums.  For the 18th year, wherever you look; through the trees and bushes; around the lake; on the trees you come across diversity of shapes and sizes.

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Wherever you walk, visitors are enjoying the spectacle, resting their legs or just having a quiet cup of tea.

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Soaking up the peace, quiet and frehness of the gardens
Golden moments : soaking up the peace, quiet of the gardens


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Sir Harold Hillier.

Words and pictures TONY KNIGHT ( copyright 2017 )


A breath of Spring

Getting out on a warm day in early March, shrug off the cold winter and re-awaken your spirit

The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum was founded in the early 1950’s by Harold Hillier to house his growing international collection of trees and shrubs.                ” H.G. ” as he was affectionately known travelled widely in Asia on plant hunting expeditions, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, the illustrious 18th – 19th century Veitch family; the Lobb brothers and the Hooker family, amongst them.

I remember researching parish church registers for the Romsey area in the 1970’s and coming across entries for Hilliers with biblical names. They worked on the land too.  Indeed, I have an historical family connection with Hilliers Nurseries.  My father worked at number one nursery in the 1950’s.  My uncle  – Walter Arthur Prior worked for Hilliers Nurseries at No 1 nursery in Winchester, rising from garden boy until he retired as Chief Propagator, and being awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Gold Medal for services to Horticulture.

Plants around the gardens are discretely labelled to aid identification.

Plants around the gardens are discretely labelled to aid identification.

The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens present a different aspect, whatever time of the year you visit.  In the autumn and winter months, when the plants are resting, visitors are  rewarded with a sense of stillness and the gardens take on a different mantle. Filigree patterns of tree branches, can be laced with frost glinting in the early morning sunshine as mist rises from the pond, lending a magical aspect to the area’s rising contours. Thoughts turn to visitor’s own gardens, planting tulips and daffodils and the prospects for the year ahead.

Wandering the paths is a delight, as with the lengthening days and rising temperatures, buds open, primroses lift their faces to follow the Sun round the horizon and Camellias, Magnolias and early Rhododendrons begin to add their vivid colours.

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Over the years many distinguished visitors have also enjoyed the gardens.  Her Majesty, the Queen opened the new visitor and educational facilities.  I remember the beautiful afternoon on 9th May 1978, when Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth,  Queen Mother officially handed over the  Arboretum to the care of Hampshire County Council.   During her visit, Her Majesty paused to admire the view towards Braishfield and met children from the village school. She then decided not to use the open vehicle to ride across the gardens, preferring to walk towards Jermyns House. after the presentation ceremony, to enjoy the delightful afternoon weather. An array of distinguished guests from civic life; the world of gardening attended and the curator Roy Lancaster was presented to the Queen Mother.

On trhe lawns close to Jermyns House, work goes on aroudn the year to tend the grounds.

Jermyns House was the home of Sir Harold and Lady Hillier from 1953.

During May and June the gardens are in full bloom, setting the borders and landscape ablaze with colour. I like to imagine what it must have been like to live in this beautiful re-creation of exotic eastern landscapes, as Sir Harold and Lady Hillier did, in a far off time when such beauty could only be seen abroad by the plant-hunters, who introduced these wonders of the world into the Hampshire countryside for us all to enjoy.

It is a haven of peace, beauty and a great place in which to admire the best of Hampshire’s landscape.


Source : Tony Knight