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.
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.
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.
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.
WEBSITE : https://www.hants.gov.uk/thingstodo/hilliergardens
Source : Tony Knight