The Hillier Gardens Throughout the Year by David Jewell

David Jewell, former Wisley Superintendent, and currently Head of the Plant Collection at Hillier Gardens spoke to the Club about The Hillier Gardens Throughout the Year.

Originally created by Sir Harold Hillier who collected seeds and plants worldwide, the Gardens span 180 acres and receive 200,000 visitors annually. It is a charitable trust with a responsibility for horticulture, conservation and recreation, under the aegis of Hampshire County Council.

A sculpture exhibition is held in the Gardens every year, and David said that as well as the intrinsic interest of each exhibit their placement is important, so as to do justice to the subject and its surroundings. This principle of harmony, (or, indeed interesting contrast) is one he applies to placing plants, shrubs and trees, in relation to colour, shape, size, even scent, throughout the gardens and indeed the year. Those of us who visit regularly, as membership facilitates, can vouch for the variety and consistent beauty achieved in every season. Stunning slides illustrated this, for example the Magnolia Walk with Spring and Summer –flowering subjects, such as striking, scented M. salicifolia, with pure white fragrant flowers and aromatic leaves; M macrophylla with bowl-shaped, parchment-white flowers and M. Stellata, good in small gardens. Brentry Wood has acid soil that suits Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons such as Rhododenron Roza Stevens, a vigorous evergreen, producing masses of saucer-shaped lemon flowers in mid to late Spring, and is excellent in light shade, Dracula, a fiery red, and Electra, a brilliant blue, and Silver Chimes.

So many flowering shrubs, trees, and grasses featured in the Gardens, were used effectively, indeed dramatically, as we were shown, as a foil to other plants. Certain subjects were impressive seen individually, for example Davidii involucrata, the “Dove or “Handkerchief Tree” and the mighty Redwoods, especially those planted for the Millennium. Others were birches such as Grayswood Ghost and Betula jacquemontii, both with white bark; Quercus suba (the Cork Oak). Sir Harold liked conifers, and planted an area “to look like Little Switzerland” as we saw in an aerial slide.

The Centenary Walk has benefited from a thinning out of some trees and shrubs in the background, and from enlarged and replanted borders and the installation of paving which has made it more accessible, especially for visitors in wheelchairs and buggies. As David indicated the latter is in keeping with the inclusive ethos of the Gardens. The borders are richly planted; among them are Asters, Pennisetum, “Redhead” and ‘Dark Desire”. (Grasses give linearity), Kniphofia “ Thorny King”, Anemones, Cosmos “Limpopo”, Nepeta “Cool Cat”, Achillea , Artemisia lactiflora,( a foil to stronger colours,), Persicara polymorph, Monarda (Scarlet) , Acer griseum, Salix, Bamboo (one with blue stems), Cornus (red or orange stems), Helenium. Combining contrasting colours is done for effect. Space allows for different heights, and large blocks of colour. Apparently Roy Lancaster told David, “When in doubt, repeat .” A slide showed Alliums in dark and lighter purple together. Clematis, for example “Minuet” and “Broughton Star” scramble over obelisks and through shrubs and each season has its “stars” In Spring unusual Fritillaria imperialis has up to 5 widely bell-shaped orange flowers crowned by small, leaf-like bracts.

Sir Harold loved trees and planted many different subjects., and today his legacy continues. Among then are 426 “Champion Trees” (of exceptional height or diameter), more than anywhere in the UK. A stunning view of the lovely pond in the Autumn showed the trees in their vibrant jewel colours.

Rabbit and deer fencing provide some protection, and a team of 18, comprising permanent staff, 3 part time, students and highly valued volunteers take care of the 40/45,000 plants. No mean achievement! In one necessarily short report it is impossible to do them all justice, and David was warmly thanked.