Hampshire is one of the most affluent counties in England with a history dating back to Roman times. There are areas of downland and marsh as well as two National Parks – the New Forest and part of the South Downs – which cover a staggering 45% of the county. It also has some diverse and interesting gardens from the famous rhododendrons at Exbury to the gardens at Highclere, familiar to many as the home of the Crawley family in Downton Abbey.
Here is a list of the gardens with info about where they are, when they are open and entry details. And to help you make up your mind, more photos and history can be found below.
As always, CHECK the garden’s website before visiting as some can close at short notice – a link to the website is highlighted in the name of the garden.
EXBURY | Near Southampton| SO45 1AZ | Open All Year | Rothschild family
GILBERT WHITE’S HOUSE | Near Guildford | GU34 3JH | Open All Year | Charitable Trust
HIGHCLERE CASTLE | Near Newbury | RG20 9RN | Open Part of the Year – tickets must be bought in advance | Historic Houses [Earls of Carnarvon]
HOUGHTON LODGE | Near Stockbridge | SO20 6LQ | Open All Year | Historic Houses [Busk family]
MANOR HOUSE, UPTON GREY | Near Reading | RG25 2RD | Open Part of the Year | Wallinger family
MOTTISFONT | Near Romsey | SO51 0LN | Open All Year | National Trust
THE VYNE | Near Basingstoke | RG24 9HL | Open All Year | National Trust
Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway is located in the New Forest, near Beaulieu and Southampton and 20 minutes from Junction 2 of the M27.
Created at the end of the twentieth century by Lionel de Rothschild, Exbury has a magnificent collection of species and hybrid rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias and azaleas.
From the entrance, turn right through the Bog Garden to the Rock Garden which covers over two acres. The American Garden is next – the rhododendrons were planted here after the storm of 1987. Look out for the train!
From here, explore the Jubilee Pond, named to celebrate King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935 and the Boardwalk. This area is spectacular in the Spring when the azaleas, magnolia and flowering cherries are in flower – and again in the Autumn with the reds, golds and oranges of the maples. Walk back along the Hydrangea Walk to Gilbury Bridge.
Witchers Wood is on your right. If you have time, explore the wood – it has several mature rhododendrons, magnolias and several ornamental trees. The Heather Garden is on your left and the recently replanted Iris Garden to your right.
The Herbaceous Borders lie close to the house along with the Five Arrows Gallery. Walk through the Glade to the Lionel de Rothschild Memorial, the Wriggly Tree and Mrs Lionel’s Seat which overlooks bog primulas, ferns and the giant leaves of Gunnera manicata.
From here, follow the stream as it passes under the Japanese Bridge to the Top Pond which is filled with carp
and surrounded by deciduous azaleas. Linked to the Lower Pond by a series of cascades, primula, hostas and Japanese maples are reflected in the water.
Nearby is the Azalea Bowl – filled with evergreen azaleas – and the Camellia Walks. These lead down to the Beaulieu River and the Arromanches Plaque.
The Winter Garden has some of the earliest flowering shrubs while the Daffodil Meadow leading down to the Beaulieu is magnificent in Spring. And don’t miss the Sundial Garden which is filled with tender and hardy perennials.
There are several cafes at Exbury as well as the Railway.
GILBERT WHITE’S HOUSE
The Wakes is in the village of Selbourne, near Alton. There’s no parking at the house so use the car park in the village.
What makes the garden at The Wakes interesting, is its eighteenth century owner, the Reverend Gilbert White. Gilbert White was born in the vicarage in Selborne where his grandfather was parish priest. The family moved to The Wakes when Gilbert was around seven. After studying at Oxford, White followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and entered the Church; he was ordained in 1749.
White was fascinated by the natural world and unlike many of his contemporaries, he studied birds and animals in their natural habitat. In 1789, his brother published White’s work: The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. The book has never been out of print.
The gardens were laid out by White between 1751 and the early 1760s.
Today, the entrance to the gardens is through the shop and house emerging at the far end of the house near the Six Quarters Garden where each bed is filled with seasonal flowers. Next is the Herb and Annual garden planted with herbs mentioned by White.
The Pond Garden is an informal area and includes the white-flowered bog bean and the greater bulrush or reed mace.
The Fruit Wall used to stretch to the ha-ha. White kept detailed notes in his Kalendar of everything he did in the garden. On 14th November, 1764, White wrote: ‘Trimm’d & tack’d all the trees against the fruit-wall. The peaches & nectarines all promise to produce bloom: some have made shoots too gross & willow-like…’
At the bottom of the lawn is the ha-ha
with the Melonry and Kitchen Garden at the far end.
From here you can see the figure of Hesperian Hercules near the Hanger [woods].
White admired the work of William Kent at Stowe and Rousham but unable to afford a statue made from marble or bronze, he had one made from wood.
With the Hangar on your left, walk back across the Great Mead to the mount with a revolving wine-pipe seat at the top.
Kim Wilkie recreated the garden in 1992 using White’s journals, correspondence, account books, the ‘Garden Kalendar’ and illustrations of 1776 by Samuel Hieronymous Grimm. There were no plans of the garden.
There’s a cafe and shop in the house.
Highclere is 5 miles south of Newbury. Follow the signs from A34.
When you arrive at the Car Park and get your first glimpse of Highclere, you can understand why it was chosen by the film company as the home of the Crawley family in Downton Abbey. The house was remodelled in 1839 for the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon by Sir Charles Barry.
Across the East Lawns is Jackdaws Castle. It was built in 1743 with stone columns brought from the ruins of Berkeley House in London. It was probably designed by Henry, 9th Earl of Pembroke, brother of Robert Herbert.
From here, walk down the hill and through the arches to the Monks Garden. The name reflects Highclere’s history when the estate was owned by the Bishops of Winchester. This area was originally planted with fruit trees but is now filled with roses, penstemon, agapanthus, geraniums and lavender.
Next is the White Garden with a door leading to the Secret Garden. On my visit, the tulips were magnificent.
Wander through the newly planted Wood of Goodwill
before heading off to the Wildflower Meadow. Here cowslips and fritillary jostle with one another with the Castle looming above them.
Spend a few minutes at the Memorial to WWII Airmen – ‘Lest We Forget’ – before arriving at the Etruscan Building.
Walk back up the hill to the car park. If you stand looking towards the north-west, you can just make out the Temple of Diana. Built in 1770s, the Rotunda was altered in 1838 by Sir Charles Barry. As you leave Highclere, you will drive past it on your left.
The medieval palace of Bishop William of Wykeham was rebuilt in 1679 by Sir Robert Sawyer, Attorney General to Charles II and James II. Further alterations were carried out in 1774 by William Burt, possibly to plans made by ‘Capability’ Brown. Brown also updated the Park.
There’s a cafe in the Stable Yard.
Houghton Lodge is on the River Test near the village of Stockbridge – between Salisbury and Winchester.
The garden entrance is next to the tearoom which overlooks the Walled Garden. There are various different beds to explore including the Hosta bed, Peony Walk, Rose Arch, Cutting and Vegetable Bed and Fruit Cage – and make sure you pop into the Orchid House.
Take the central path to the Gate and enjoy the Herbaceous Border which stretches along the chalk cob wall for 300 feet.
It’s half a mile from here through the Water Meadows to the River Test. Turn right to the Summer House and then right again to the hissing Dragon. This was installed by Anthea Busk and her grandson Oliver.
Walk along the Spring Ditch to the Peacock Garden, formerly the Rose Garden.
From here, head South, past the house to the Viewing Platform over the Test.
Walk back through the Woods, past the Grotto and Little Monument to the circular bed in front of the house and a statue of Neptune.
The fishing lodge or cottage ornee was probably designed by John Nash for the Pitt-Rivers family at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The estate has been owned by the Busk family since 1910.
There’s a tearoom overlooking the Walled Garden.
MANOR HOUSE, UPTON GREY
The Manor House is in the village of Upton Grey, 5 miles south-east of Basingstoke.
In 1908, Charles Holme, a leading figure of the Arts and Crafts Movement, asked Gertrude Jekyll to design the gardens around his fifteenth century manor house. The house had been enlarged by Ernest Newton in 1906. Over the years, the house and garden had been neglected until 1984 when John and Rosamund Wallinger bought the property. Having discovered a full set of Jekyll’s plans in the Reef Point Collection at Berkeley, they started to restore the garden to its former glory.
Standing on the Terrace in front of the house, the formal garden lies beneath you. On a much smaller scale than many Jekyll gardens, it’s a wonderful site.
The drystone walls and hedges separate the different rooms with a rose garden, herbaceous border
and at the far end of the garden, the tennis court.
Outside the hedging are the nuttery and orchard and kitchen garden – with their residents.
In contrast to the straight lines of the formal garden is the more relaxed Wild Garden. It lies to the north-west – on the other side of the house. Grass paths lead through the meadow of wild flowers and roses to the pond.
Before Charles Holme bought Upton Grey in 1902, he had lived at the Red House, Bexley, the house Philip Webb had designed for William Morris. Holme was founder of the Arts and Crafts magazine The Studio and a member of The Japan Society.
Mottisfont is five miles north of Romsey. From M27, take J2 or J3 and follow the signs to Romsey.
The Priory of Augustinian monks at Mottisfont, was disbanded during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the property was given to Sir William Sandys. Lord Sandys also owned The Vyne in Hampshire. Sandys transformed the priory buildings into a house centred around two courtyards with two wings either side of the existing church nave. Part of the Priory can still be seen today.
By 1922 the house was empty and was rescued in 1934 by Gilbert and Maud Russell. Using the framework of the garden from a plan of 1724, Gilbert and Maud restored the garden. They commissioned several garden designers to reflect different periods of the house’s history. Gilbert Russell died in 1942 and in 1957 Mrs Russell gave Mottisfont to the National Trust. She continued to live in the house until 1972.
At every time of year, there is something to see at Mottisfont. A bridge leads from the car park and shop, over the River Test to the gardens. On the left is the well and Font Stream and beyond, the Winter Garden which is filled with early spring bulbs, daphne, hamamelis and many other late and early flowering perennials.
From here the lawns reach the house. The Russells commissioned Norah Lindsay to design a box-edged knot-garden in front of the house. Lindsay took her inspiration from a piece of Tudor glass which has since been lost.
Turn left, keeping the Stables on your right to reach the Walled Garden. A treat awaits you! First the recently restored Kitchen Garden
and then through the door into the Rose Garden which was designed by Graham Stuart Thomas in 1972-73.
Between the Stables and the Walled Garden are the Ice House and Shepherds Hut. To the north of the house is the pleached lime walk designed by Geoffrey Jellico to echo the medieval priory’s cloister.
The summerhouse – recently vandalised – is in the shrubbery, 100 meters north-east of the house. Constructed of knapped flint, it was built by Richard Mills in the eighteenth century – at the same time as he updated the mainhouse.
There’s the usual National Trust shop and cafes. If you have time, pop in the house and have a look at the room painted by Rex Whistler and the remains of the medieval priory.
The Vyne is 4 miles north of Basingstoke between Bramley and Sherborne St John.
Between 1500 and c1515, William Sandys, later Baron Sandys, built a large moated house at the Vyne on the site of an earlier house. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed here in 1535; the next year, Sandys found the Queen guilty of adultery, incest and treason.
A dip in the family fortune forced 6th Lord Sandys to sell the house – Sandys retired to Mottisfont in 1644. The property was bought by Chaloner Chute who commissioned John Webb, a pupil of Inigo Jones, to redesign the house. Webb added the central portico – the first of its kind on a country house – and the summerhouse.
Running the length of the north-west façade is the grassed terrace and gravelled walk which were built by Wiggett Chute in the mid nineteenth century. From here, the lawn slopes gently down to the lake which was created from four fishponds probably in the eighteenth century.
The Flower Garden enclosed by yew hedges was designed and planted in 1997-8 as an Edwardian flower garden to reflect the floor plan of the summerhouse.
From the north-west corner of the Flower Garden, a gravelled path leads along a lime avenue planted in 1880s by Chaloner Chute, to the south wall of the kitchen garden.
It then turns to cross the dam and runs along the north-west side of the lake. To return to the house, walk to the end of the lake, pass a bird hide and the remains of a mid-nineteenth century iron bridge to the Wild Garden which was established by Sir Charles Chute c.1910.
The herbaceous borders near the house are enclosed by yew hedges and were laid out by the National Trust in 1960s and replanted in 1996.
On the death of Sir Charles Chute in 1956, The Vyne was given to the National Trust. The Trust has recently carried out an extensive restoration project.
There’s a National Trust shop and cafe