Hampshire Now - your County Council magazine

Hampshire history: The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens

The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens near Romsey is famous worldwide for its collection of more than 42,000 plants from around the world. The beautiful Jermyn’s House, now housing a tea room and other rooms available to hire for weddings, private and corporate functions, was once the home of the famous Sir Harold himself.

From medieval times the area was part of the Fleming estates, consisting of woodland and grassland. In 1724, Farmer Jarman was reprimanded by the Manorial Court for taking land as ‘a backside’ (a back yard of a house, or a farm). This perhaps gives us the origin of the name ‘Jermyn’s House’.

The property passed through many hands before the Hillier family arrived in June 1953 and transformed it into the amazing garden we see today.

Sir Harold aspired “to create as attractively as possible as great a collection of plants as I was able to add to those already collected by my father and grandfather”. He was moving away from his grandfather’s Winchester nursery to find chalk-free soil. Jermyn’s House, with 41 acres, was perfect.

In the early days much land was used for production of trees. Ornamental planting was restricted to areas that were not suitable as nurseries, but included inspired themes such as a magnolia avenue, a heather garden and a home for dwarf conifers and alpines. During the 1960s Sir Harold bought additional properties to extend his nurseries, and before he died in 1985, he made the gardens into a charitable trust.

Under the trusteeship of Hampshire County Council, the gardens have been extended to 180 acres, enjoyed every day by families, plant scientists, 12,000 school children and many other visitors.

Rediscovering Sir Harold’s centenary border

In 1964, to celebrate the centenary of his grandfather’s original Winchester nursery, Harold Hillier created a 220-metre-long border of hollies, yews, junipers and box woods, divided into 22-yard bays (reflecting his interest in cricket) of herbaceous perennials and roses. However as years went by and the plants grew too big, much of the scheme was lost.

Between 2010 and 2012, the border was rejuvenated. The new design has improved access paths and a planting scheme with greater year-round interest. Sir Harold’s 22-yard markers have also returned in the paving. It’s definitely worth seeing – why not pay a visit?