In 1953 the distinguished plantsman, Sir Harold Hillier established the Gardens and Arboretum. Over the many years he assembled a remarkable collection, in the aim to bring together the most comprehensive and unrivalled collection of trees, shrubs and hard hardy plants in the UK.
The Gardens were left under the sole trusteeship of Hampshire County Council in 1977. Run as a charity, the Gardens are continually developed to further Sir Harold’s philosophy of horticulture, conservation, education and recreation. In 1997 the Gardens were included by English Heritage on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.
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 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.
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