It is undoubtedly due to the passion, the knowledge, and the untiring enthusiasm of the late Sir Harold Hillier that the Gardens owe their prominence today.
Sir Harold was born in 1905, the son of Edwin Lawrence Hillier, a world authority on conifers, whose own father Edwin had started a small florist and nursery in Winchester, in 1864.
Much of Sir Harold’s time was devoted to expanding his ever-growing plant collection. He corresponded with garden owners, curators and nurserymen all over the country, and, indeed, all over the world. Many plants from his visits to such countries as Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, the United States of America, and Mexico grow in the Gardens today.
Sir Harold’s objective, in his own words, was “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”.
Sir Harold was closely involved with deciding what was to be planted and where. It was common to see him on Saturday mornings in the Gardens with his first Head Gardener, Jack Brice, Sir Harold with a handful of labels and Jack with an armful of canes, marking out suitable planting positions.
During the 1960s he purchased additional properties to extend the size of his nurseries in this area, as well as the Gardens. A good deal of this land eventually became part of the Gardens and in 1977, Sir Harold made the Gardens, then 110 acres, a charitable trust, with Hampshire County Council becoming the sole Trustee.
Sir Harold died in 1985 but those of us who heard his voice, booming amongst the trees, will never forget him and in the Gardens he created we can still admire the same wonderful collection of plants that he raised, loved and knew so well.
The Queen Mother on her visit in 1978