A red butterfly flutters in fleeting breeze on this glorious summer’s day. Sauntering along, searing sun softened by cotton clouds and champion trees. Azure sky, there’s calm at Romsey’s Hillier Gardens; 180 acres of lush foliage where pockets of peacefulness and plants abound.
Partitioned into enchanting areas; the children’s Tree House, the eco-friendly Winter Garden, conversation's murmur lost to the winds, the chirp of crickets a constant. A Swamp Cypress stands proudly above fish filled and lily lined pond.
Pink pigs bask in dappled woodland sun. The kaleidoscopic Avenue of Dreams, rich in blues and yellows, bursts with heathers.
Meandering past sculptures, I have a fleeting dalliance with the Education Centre; Mediterranean plants, bamboo maze and amphibian dipping pool!
Now, I must cool.
The restaurant’s panoramic views and sweet treats an oasis. An amble around the bountiful Gift Shop and Gallery and my time here shall forever be treasured.
Ancient Priory, Mottisfont House's history is as grand as its lime tree lined gardens; trout teeming Test winding by. A sunlit shower dampens not the spirits of families playing beside Romsey’s river.
Rex Whistler’s painted reception is festooned with Victorian settee and Chippendale armchairs. Leaving behind the Grand Piano’s tinkle, I mosey along, perusing the Dining Room’s lovely views and Morning Room's Art Collection (Lowry); home to an Ian Fleming affair...
Quentin Blake’s exhibition enthralled, especially the little ones dressing up as their favourite characters! One can relax in the second hand book shop, courtyard café or shop, replete with local delights.
Earlier, two intrepid explorers stroll by the stream. Woodland path beneath, Yew trees above, a sense of being in some secret garden.
Rose’s scent perfumes the Walled Garden’s air where children play bug bingo. Orange Rubbeckia, spiralling sweet peas and purple aster; such spectacular sights.
Here's the National Collection of Old Roses, where white ones snake up towering walls, as lavender's aroma evokes a childhood memory in this paradise where so many more shall form.
Steam swirls skywards.
Chug. Chug. Chug.
And we’re off, Exbury’s steam train brimming with awestruck passengers, wondering what wonders await…
We drift by the Rock Garden, where a family play hide and seek, mum searching for her boy crouching behind Welsh rocks. ‘Found you!’
Children clamber into the Domesday Yew; over 300 years old!
‘All change’, bellows the guard at Exbury North. Where else to explore…?
Jubilee Pond appears; children laughing, tossing bread into the mouths of leaping fish. Witcher’s Wood is rich with Rhododendrons brought back by botanists.
Ornamental trees too, like Brewer’s Spruce.
Lover’s lane leads to an immaculate Sundial Garden, alive with dancing dahlias; purples, pinks, whites!
Camellia walks now; planted by Lionel de Rothschild many moons ago. His Rhododendron passion infuses this sprawling New Forest idyll, on the banks of Beaulieu River, where I stand, reflecting, beside a plaque commemorating the lives of those who sailed from here to D-Day.
Troops immortalised in the Yew’s long shadow; a tree which stands in a garden, transforming with the seasons and where, leaving, I feel rejuvenated.
Explore these beautiful gardens and more of the county's wonderful houses, museums and gardens with Hampshire's Top Attractions