Garden Visit: All smiles and sunshine at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens
Roy worked at the garden for many years and had a huge fund of stories to tell. I reckon we could have followed him round the garden for a month and the supply would be far from exhausted.
I think autumn's come early this year in terms of colour and this pictured swamp cypress agrees. It grabbed lots of attention from all garden visitors who passed it, some even taking advantage of strategically placed benches to wonder at that glory for longer.
Interestingly there's another on the bank (just peeping through on the left hand side as you look at the photo) which is much taller and still green. It shows how different conditions affects what we see and whilst having swamp in the name might make us think it's perfectly happy in that small lake, it may not be quite the right place for it. But ohhhhhh, that colour!
Our tour started at the Centenary Border and was timed perfectly for the light to be shining behind many of the grasses planted there. It also highlighted the cannas well, and I don't think I've ever seen them as tall as these. I thought one of the dahlias growing there was 'Fascination', but it turned out to be 'Magenta Star'. It was much taller than those I've grown here at VP Gardens. Both are signs of a well mulched and cultivated border, and perhaps I need to up my game in terms of adding organic matter to my garden's soil.
Sir Harold Hillier was noted for collecting trees and woody plants, in fact Roy Lancaster kept on referring to the garden's former name as an arboretum. I think nowhere illustrates this passion more succinctly than the views around the Hillier family's former home, Jermyn House. It's amazing to think the whole estate was bought for a mere £7,000 in the early 1950s and now boasts more Champion Trees than Kew.
There's currently an art exhibition in the garden and my favourite pieces were these tall combinations of metal and glass placed in the avenue of magnolias leading up from the house. I wouldn't mind having them here.
The other main part of our tour was the Winter Garden, though on the day it was doing a very good impression of an autumn one. I remarked how autumn bulbs like the pictured Sternbergia lutea (winter daffodil) always flop over for me and Karen suggested I should grow them through low growing plants like geraniums, which hold them up well. It's a useful tip and one I'll bear in mind when I replant our front garden. We also liked the look of the unusual hips of the burr rose, Rosa roxburgii.
It wasn't just garden colour in evidence on the day, there were scents to savour too. The distinctive candy floss aroma of the katsura trees was heavenly in the winter garden, and this new-to-me 'Sweet Autumn Clematis' (Clematis terniflora) pulled us - and the bees - in from dozens of yards away. It looked quite rampant, so I need to check its potential spread before I buy one (it's classified as a Category II invasive plant in some parts of the USA according to Wikipedia).
You may wonder why I've included these two ho-hum photos. Well, they represent the garden's future. The left photo is the new 'Valley of Fire', which will have flames of autumn colour throughout from the trees planted for their seasonal colour. It also represents some of the difficulties the garden had over the summer as the drought conditions affected some of the newly planted borders.
The car park photo shows you the new Tom Stuart Smith garden... well its proposed location, which is awaiting funding application success before it goes ahead. It's current working title is the 'Frontier Garden' after a recent staff brainstorming session, and is designed to showcase plants being grown at the limits of their usual range.
Both photos also illustrate the challenges the garden faces. Owned by Hampshire County Council, its grant from them has been slashed from half a million pounds per annum to a mere £23,000 in five years. Visitor numbers and membership are up, which helps to compensate for this substantial loss of income.
There are plans to increase visitor numbers still further to 250,000 per year (currently 200,000) and this will only be achieved by enhancing the garden's attractions and seasonal offerings.
This news gave me food for thought. This garden of excellence is able to face the funding challenge with aplomb, but it's a story which must apply to nearly all our parks and gardens, many of which would have difficulty in asking visitors to pay or take out membership. How can we ensure the gardens on our own doorstep remain for us as the vital resource they are?