Four days of glorious gardens lay in store for more than 40 members, family and friends as the coach left for Hampshire on Sunday, June 16. In the coming days, we were to witness a water garden with a very definite wow factor, impromptu sessions of gardening wisdom from Chelsea gold medal winner Andy McIndoe and one of the UK’s most outstanding rose gardens. Gardens large and small, public and private, added the special feel of the tour. Here’s what some of our members thought of the places we visited…
On Sunday 16th June 42 of us set out on our biannual garden tour. It was the first time that the six of us on the committee had arranged the tour and we had a lot to live up to after the previous tours organised by David and Judy Pollitt, so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that we arrived at our first coffee stop, the Coach House Garden at Ampney Crucis.
I need not have worried, the garden was looking splendid, and we had just avoided a cloudburst.
The 1.5 acre garden is owned by Mel and Nicholas Tanner who have planted and developed the garden from nothing over the past 20 years. Mel welcomed us and gave an overview of their trials and tribulations in making the garden. We then split into two groups, one to look at the garden, the other to have tea/coffee and gorgeous cake, before swapping over.
Near to the house is a sheltered patio with a large Catalpa aurea tree which gives shade in the summer and in winter houses Mel’s bird feeders. This is only one of the many interesting trees around the garden. Leading up from the terrace are lovely herbaceous borders which were looking very colourful. This leads up some steps onto a raised rose garden, which I believe we caught just at its colourful best, the scent was wonderful too!
To the side through a yew hedge there are several more garden rooms including the swimming pool garden and a small vegetable garden, complete with scarecrow and chickens. There was also a lovely rill garden which had a very calming atmosphere.
Unfortunately, just as we were ready to leave the rain started again, but I am sure all of us enjoyed our time there, and were looking forward to all the other wonderful gardens we were about to experience.
When you arrive at a garden you’ve been looking forward to seeing for a while, it can be so good you want to come back tomorrow – or so disappointing you wonder why you’d built up such a head of steam.
So it was at the Sir Harold Hillier Garden and arboretum, second stop of the garden tour. We’d been allowed three hours there, which sounded wonderful but as it is 180 acres in size, this allowed about a minute per acre. Clearly, I wouldn’t get around it all.
My interest had been sparked because I knew the gardens were the horticultural home of our own President, Roy Lancaster, for much of his illustrious career and I know he has a soft spot for the place.
A very pleasant lunch kicked off the visit but it wasn’t too long before I was standing at the celebrated Centenary Borders that I’d read about. Straight-edged perfection, crossing paths that cut the grass into a series of cricket-wicket lengths and much to admire in the perennial planting made it hard to move on from this glorious example of what we all love. True, there were a few gaps but it would be churlish to mention them.
Dreaming blue spires of Delphinium 'Pandora', breath-taking Philadelphus Maculata ‘Sweet Clare’ and a wonderful Cornus kousa ‘Beni-Fuji’ will stick in my mind for a long time – as will the exuberant Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’, a massive full stop at the end of the borders. Add to them, fine examples of salvias and eryngiums and other hardy plants which made the borders such a treat.
Further on, at the end of the borders, was a tree that stopped me dead in my tracks, one of 400 so-called Champion Trees on the site. This one was a Cercidiphyllum Japonicum, a mature specimen that made me linger for a good few minutes to take in its magnificence. It was clearly at home, thousands of miles from its Himalayan origins. I had a similar reaction nearby with a Wollemia nobilis, a living fossil discovered in an Australian rainforest in 1994, the first I’d seen at that larger size, 12ft or more. Wonderful to be able to see it thriving near Southampton.
Around the garden were some fine examples of outdoor art which added to the pleasure of the afternoon – and I liked the kids’ playground where courgettes and other plants were growing in a range of child-friendly containers.
The main criticism I heard was the disappointing standard of plant sales – where so much of what we’d seen and enjoyed was unavailable to buy. So, I didn’t make time to visit, but it’s a small criticism as this is a garden that I’d willingly revisit. Bit busy tomorrow, I think.
Penny and Sandy Burnfield have been at Terstan since the early 1970’s, starting from a dilapidated worker’s cottage and no garden. Terstan itself has been inhabited since Neolithic times and the old Roman road linking the east and west of England runs past their land, now part of the organic dairy farm owned and run by Sandy’s family. Both Sandy and Penny were doctors, but Penny has since studied textiles at Winchester.
Terstan, in the Test valley, is wet in winter and can be cold, but the soil is good in most places. Penny has taken the irregular shape of their land as her cue for making mainly oval and circular ‘rooms’ and beds which lead on from one another around the house.
You step down into the Main Lawn, the oldest bit of the garden, to be surrounded by dense planting in gentle shading of colours, with different shades of yellow dominant. Throughout Terstan, texture is as important as colour. Up a few steps to the Gravel Garden where the colour is brighter but still softened by the plant combinations, for example kniphofia and Sisyrinchium striatum. A thyme carpet full of bees is this garden’s most striking feature, and their buzzing along with the very gentle sound from a fountain where the outlet is just below the water’s surface keeps the serene feel of the garden.
The Front Garden, which is parallel to the track past the house has some more definite colour, but the house is softened by roses and clematis. I really liked the waving curtain of Stipa gigantea between garden and track. A wide green corridor uses the deep shade on the east side of the house to contrast with the sunny areas and lead through to more green spaces beyond.
Penny’s rabbit-proof ‘treasures and experiments’ garden is a one-off shape: a rectangle, sunny and going up in shallow steps above the greenhouse. The soil is very well drained. Some of the plants there wouldn’t necessarily fit into the main garden, but are grown for cut flowers as well as being trialled. There are also fruit and vegetables. The greenhouse holds tender plants, many of which are moved out in spring to give a changing array of pots on the paving – a lesson in pot-arranging to those of us who don’t always succeed in this department.
Terstan is a textile artist’s garden; the colour is no more important than the textures of the plants. It’s grown into itself to be seen from any angle, to slow you down, and wish you could stay.
Oh, my word! When told we were going to a water garden, I had visions of fountains and waterfalls so was pleasantly surprised to be transported to this amazing garden. It was a tranquil area of huge ponds all inter-connected by solid walkways (no-one fell in) planted with water lilies though sadly not in flower. The ponds were bordered by lush planting of gunneras, hostas, primula and astrantia etc. It was a pleasure to see such bold planting and the effect was all in proportion.
A tributary from the River Test fed into the ponds which, in 1870, were gravel pits. The vision of the Beddington family transformed it into a water garden. It was subsequently bought by John Lewis in 1947 where he was able to develop his passion for gardening. The 7 -acre plot was handed over to the John Lewis Partnership in 1963 with a caveat that it be used for the benefit of employees and be maintained in its original form. It is currently maintained to a very high standard with just two full-time gardeners.
Brown trout were seen lolling in the ponds but little sign of water fowl apart from a pair of coots with their young. Bird song was much in evidence due to the surrounding trees and shrubs.
We were then transported to the nearby Waitrose restaurant where a sumptuous ploughman’s lunch was much enjoyed followed by the chance to explore the farm shop and wonderful plant nursery. There was an adjoining garden with an enormous herbaceous border. Opposite this was a further border housing the national collection of buddleias - over 80 species and cultivars, all well labelled and cared for. Dividing these borders was a dramatic pergola edged with lavender and planted up with numerous espaliered fruit trees intertwined with clematis viticella. Another visit a month or so later would be well worthwhile to witness all this in flower.
Longstock was a truly remarkable and peaceful garden which one rarely hears about and is not often open to the public so thank you to the organisers for including it on the itinerary.
The first thing to catch our attention on entering the garden was the magnificent white-flowered bracts of Cornus kousa abutting the house.
Victoria Wakefield (RHS floral judge) has lived here in the18th century house since she was four and has now passed the property to her son, Edward. The new head gardener belongs to the Hampshire group of the Hardy Plant Society and has help from two full-time and two part-time gardeners.
The garden slopes down from the clock tower towards the house via grassy terraces and old walls almost hidden by roses and greenery. There are the two renowned mirror image long herbaceous borders filled with an abundance of plants. The impressive planting is symmetrically arranged by a colour theme.
An interesting feature was an oval area of grass surrounded by a hedge of box inter-planted with yew about 4ft in height.
The large greenhouse (not usually open to the public) was full of drying bulbs, pelargoniums, orchids and clivia. Notable shrubs were a spreading Malus transitoria, Chionanthus virginicus with white, spidery flowers and Cornus kousa ‘Beni Fuji’ a bright pink variant.
Acting as a barrier between the house and the road is a wonderful range of cloud-pruned yew and box.
In addition, there were dahlia beds, peony beds and sweet peas trained up supports while pear trees and roses covered an old brick wall. As well as a working kitchen garden, there was a cutting flower bed which supplied the house.
“Wow! What a superb wildflower meadow!” This was not what we necessarily expected to find on visiting the garden of Andy McIndoe and his wife Ros as Andy is a 25 times Chelsea Gold medal winner for his displays of shrubs for Hilliers Nursery. However this was a jewel at the end of this remarkable garden exemplifying the depth and quality of the planting.
Created in just two years without any sowing, this meadow now boasts orchids amongst the delicate grasses, an abundance of tall daisies and many other flowers. Mowing takes place in September and again in April, removing everything by raking to prevent nutrients returning to the soil. The only other intervention was to remove a few dandelions and thistles, and relocate some of the tall white daisies. Stunning!
Andy and Ros, both garden designers, welcomed us into their wonderful NE facing garden, created over the last 19 years, which unfolds from airy planting around the terrace and conservatory drawing the eye through the garden along different vistas using repeating colours and forms. Andy proved an extremely generous host, guiding us round the garden, pointing out the special attributes of choice specimens and the ways in which they have been placed. Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’-not too big on their light sandy soil, many acers, silver birches with branches thinned in summer, arching sprays of soft Deutzia “Strawberry Fields” pruned immediately after flowering, Cornus ‘Norman Hadden’ with flowers turning from white to pink and followed by hanging strawberry fruits, Deutzia pulchra which flowers even in heavy shade; these are just a few examples of the beautiful plants contributing to some inspiring planting combinations. Needless to say we were taking lots of photos for future reference!
Andy regaled us with anecdotes about Chelsea stands and shared nuggets of gardening wisdom for example four hours of direct sun each day is enough to keep a shrub happy and flowering well. He also emphasised the importance of the mid-storey in a garden composition and the value of variegated plants in lighting up borders.
The only watering done in this garden is for pots, most of which are permanently planted with annuals and bulbs, veg and ‘new arrivals’. We were also intrigued to learn that Andy never does a planting plan. A plant list yes, but never a plan. The Terrace Garden is planted with seasonal interest around a small pond and patio as it is directly outside the conservatory where they ‘live’, and is the entrance to the garden via a narrow path.
The image of one particularly striking border included a combination of Rosa ‘Young Lycidus’, Deutzia ‘Strawberry Fields’ and Cornus ‘controversa variegata’ backed by a white multi-stemmed Betula and Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’ will stay with us for a long time. And it mattered not one jot that there was a steady light rainfall throughout!
Originally a mediaeval priory, Mottisfont underwent a number of transformations through the centuries to turn it into an imposing residence. It was purchased by Maud and Gilbert Russell in 1934, and artists and writers were inspired by the house and its setting, with the River Test flowing quietly close by. The house was gifted to the National Trust in 1957 though Maud lived there until 1972. In the 1970’s, Graham Stuart Thomas created the “Garden of Old Roses” in what was the old walled kitchen garden, based on his collection of rare examples nurtured over the previous thirty years. In the next decade, the Old Orchard site was also converted to house repeat-blooming varieties, including one named after Graham Thomas in honour of the creator of the gardens. The National Collection of Shrub Roses-pre-1900 is held at Mottisfont.
From the path leading over the stone bridge under which the river flows, there is a 10-minute walk through impressive parkland with lovely specimen trees to reach the series of walled gardens. The entrance to the Kitchen Garden is via what appears to be a newly constructed rose archway, with scented roses planted at the base of new posts and clematis against the outer walls. The perfume from 'The Pilgrim' roses was delightful but almost overwhelming. The Kitchen Garden is currently being renovated, with brick built raised beds and posts to support climbers (probably gourds a volunteer suggested). From there, visitors proceed into what is now called the Central Garden and the start of the extensive rose collections, with herbaceous borders and underplanted perennials including lavender, foxgloves, sisyrinchium, salvias, alliums and many others. The overall effect is simply stunning.
The National Trust is eliminating the use of pesticides and relies on its own compost and the hard work of its army of volunteers to keep the gardens looking as good they do. Information boards and labels help visitors to identify the different types of roses and the volunteers were happy to share their knowledge of the collections. I did not have time to look around the house itself as there was too much to see in the gardens, but it makes a repeat visit to Mottisfont a must for the future.
I became aware of Hambledon House through a three-part TV programme when Dee Hart-Dyke, joined by her famous daughter Miranda Hart, showed some of the wide variety of gardens opening for the National Gardens Scheme, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit the garden for myself. Hambledon village has been nicknamed the 'Cradle of Cricket' for having one of the oldest cricket clubs formed around 1750.
David and Diana (Dee) have developed the 3-acre, partly-walled garden at Hambledon House over the past 30 years. Although we arrived in the midst of a torrential downpour Dee was undaunted and invited us to shelter in the garage. Her passion for her garden is inspiring and there was a collective intake of breath as she told us how she regularly gardens for eight hours a day. The continuing rain meant that cake and plant sales came next, but as soon as I could I went exploring.
I love the anticipation of entering a garden through an archway, leading around the side of the house and presenting a choice - up the steps to a raised courtyard garden or round to a wide sweep of lawn rising up behind the house. A fairly steep slope up from the house is not easy to design, but two short flights of steps and generously flowing borders reduce the scale. The garden is packed with interesting plants, and a good mix of shrubs and perennials provides artistic combinations of texture and colour, as here where the strong shapes of grasses and a hosta work well with contrasting colour from the heuchera and fern. All the plants are well tended and placed to perfection. The white trunk of a birch brings drama to this area, whilst flower and foliage colours compliment each other perfectly.
There is humour in this garden too, an enormous yew arch provides an ideal place to conceal a store of plant supports although few plants appear to need them.
You emerge onto a paved path between borders backed by a flint wall, over which there is a view of village rooftops. Even on a dull day these borders were vibrant with colour. One of the key plants in the garden, Dictamnus albus var. purpureus provides bold splashes of colour, contrasting with dark blue delphiniums and salvia.
This is the garden of a family home and it reflects the personality and expertise of the gardener who created it and shows how it is continuing to develop.
We were on our way home and, for those of us who were feeling a little “gardened out” by then, the enthusiasm of Rosamund Wallinger, the owner The Manor House at Upton Grey, was infectious.
She has uncovered (literally – it was a jungle 32 years ago) and restored an Edwardian garden which was designed in 1908 by the then 65-year-old Gertrude Jekyll. If you are a fan of hers then this garden is to die for. It purports to be the most authentic Gertrude Jekyll restoration in existence and with the original Jekyll garden planting plans on display I can believe it.
It also has the only example of a Jekyll ‘Wild Garden’ which was the first part of the garden we saw. We walked through this from the coach to the house. However, it was not the sort of Jekyll garden we are accustomed to. Grass paths wind from semi-circular grass steps through wild flowers, rambling and species roses, to a small copse of walnut trees and beyond them a pond. Walking down the side of the house we arrived at the Formal Garden. This was the Jekyll design we expected to see. Here there were no curved lines. In a geometric outline Jekyll designed a rose garden, drystone walls and her typical herbaceous borders. These, with the grass tennis court below, are enclosed in yew hedging which serves both as protection for plants and a strong background to the colours. At the time of our visit it was ablaze with, mainly pink, peonies and roses.
A garden like this is definitely not for low maintenance gardeners! Overflowing beds and narrow paths, dense planting and little corners filled with flowers, this garden is the result of years of hard work and untiring devotion. Set against the backdrop of the 15th century house it transports the visitor back to the heyday of Edwardian life. It leaves a Jekyll fan drooling.
The final garden we visited on our tour was West Green House Garden, near Hartley Wintney. The 18th century house (not open) and the gardens are owned by the National Trust but are leased to the Australian garden designer Marylyn Abbott. She undertook the restoration of the badly neglected walled garden.
On our arrival, we had a quick look at the garden before sitting down to a lunch of tasty soup and a selection of sandwiches. Having eaten we were free to explore.
The walled garden had been beautifully restored with many wonderful roses and a wide variety of colourful herbaceous plants and vegetables. The level of maintenance was very high, all the lawns were excellent, but not for walking on.
A walk round showed that the rest of the garden was very different, being much more informal. There is a large lake and Paradise Water Garden. The lake had a pavilion on an island but unfortunately the bridge to it was broken. The garden plan also showed ’The Chelsea Planting’, the garden for which Marylyn Abbott had won a Silver Gilt Medal at Chelsea in 2014. Sadly, this was in a poor state with only a few rather neglected box bushes and a pergola with nothing growing up it, so there was no real indication as to what the original was like. At the outer edge of this area of the garden was a path and a woodland glade.
After a cup of tea, we boarded the coach and made our way home having had a wonderful 4-day tour of Hampshire.