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