Discovering the spring beauty of Hinton Ampner gardens
PUBLISHED: 10:53 26 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:53 26 March 2014
Owned by the National Trust, the historic Hinton Ampner estate, near Alresford, has an important and distinctive garden created by its last private owner, Ralph Stawell Dutton, the 8th and last Lord Sherbourne.
The house was originally built in 1790 as a hunting lodge, remodelled in 1867 for Victorian tastes, and again in the 1930s to a symmetrical Georgian style for Dutton. Then in 1960 it was badly damaged by fire but was lovingly restored back to how it looked in 1936. As Dutton had no direct heirs he gave the entire 1,550-acre estate to the National Trust on his death in 1985. The house holds his fine collection of ceramics and art, but Hinton Ampner is known more for its garden.
Fittingly, Ralph Dutton’s vision complements the elegant Georgian proportions of the imposing country manor and is still much as he created it from 1930. “The framework of the garden is kept the same and not altered because it is so good,” explains Head Gardener John Wood. Widely acknowledged as a masterpiece of 20th century garden design, the 12 acre garden is on the bones of a Victorian garden, with a strong formal layout in-filled with colour through the seasons and set with magnificent views across the South Downs. Remodelling the garden included reducing the north forecourt, redesigning the rose garden, creating the dell garden and philadelphus walk and altering the balustrade and sunken garden to suit the house. “He cleverly used existing trees and features to create the garden as we see it today,” John adds.
The garden’s design also has magnificent topiary in a long walk, formal bedding schemes, a productive walled garden with restored Victorian greenhouses and an atmospheric wild garden framed in hedging next to the attractive 13th century parish church, the last resting place of Lord Sherbourne and his ancestors. To reward the villagers for braving cold winter mornings, Dutton even planted the grass with fragrant winter flowers, as he knew the congregation would gather there each Sunday, no matter the season.
Dutton, who was both a garden designer and garden historian, shared his skill and knowledge through writing a history of the English Garden and also a book on Hinton Ampner where he explained some of his intent for the garden.
“My interest lies more in the shrubs than in flowers and what above all I want from a garden is tranquillity.”
Some of these lovely shrub choices include weigelas, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, sarcococca and daphnes grown for their delicate scent and underplanted with fragrant spring bulbs such as hyacinths.
“There are some top plants to look out for in each season. In January there are Iris unguicularis on the south terrace, then in February the beautiful white flowers of Crocus chrysanthus ‘Snow Bunting’ in front of the house and massed snowdrops in the rookery. March sees golden Forsythia x suspense trained on the outside of the walled garden and in April the magnolias and prunus blossom. There is a good selection of lilacs in May and collections of viburnums, philadelphus and roses for June. Late summer has the abelias and buddleias, followed by masses of dahlias in September. Salvias continue the show, with rosehips and berries in November and then in December winter-flowering Jasminum nudiflorum and Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’,” says John.
Hinton Ampner is not a garden preserved in aspic, but one that continues to evolve while keeping the integrity of the design and planting palette. ‘A garden can never remain stationary: if it does not forward, it goes back’, Dutton wrote in A Hampshire Manor in 1968. Every winter John and the team try to restore a part of the garden and replace with similar plants but also add some new varieties to extend the season or add extra interest.
“We are always trying to improve the garden and at the moment trying to introduce more winter interest as the gardens and estate walks are now open all year round for the first time. Part of the walled garden is being replanted with winter choices and our volunteers are restoring another glasshouse,” comments John.
When Dutton planned the estate he saw it as a whole, where house, garden and estate seamlessly blends into one another and one couldn’t exist without the other; and that is the ethos being carried forward. Visitors can enjoy all aspects of Hinton Ampner and in particular marvel at the high presentation of the gardens - do allow enough time to stroll beyond to the beech tree walks or bluebell woods in spring. “Many people haven’t heard of us before and are surprised with what is on offer. We get lots of good comments about the feeling visitors get of tranquillity and friendliness,” John concludes.
Opening times: Hinton Ampner, Bramdean, SO24 0LA. Garden and grounds open daily (10am-4pm/5pm/6pm)
The house is open from March to the end of November.
See website for details of timings - www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hinton-ampner
Take a tour
1 The Walled Garden
Fruit trees on the perimeter, espaliered apples and pears, neat rows of veg and billowing herbs, produced for the Stables Tea-room, are joined by changing herbaceous plantings that include sweet peas, sunflowers and daylilies.
2 The Drive and North Vista
Rhododendrons are the highlight here in a patch of slightly acidic clay soil.
3 The Magnolia Garden
Camellias start the show here, followed by magnolias forming a canopy for spring bulbs and then later the hydrangea season in summer.
4 The Orchard
Wild daffodils and anemones pop up in the rough grass with flowering cherries. In May the quince and medlars are in flower with camassias below, while in autumn the crab apple fruits and crocus draw the eye.
5 The Church Border
Snowdrops, crocuses and aconites, with scented sarcococcas are the stars here in spring, followed by blue muscari with the fresh unfurling leaves of acers. Perennial foxgloves are gorgeous in June and by late August dainty asters herald autumn.
6 The Dell
Once a chalk pit, this area is planted with foliage plants such as hellebores, pulmonaria, brunnera, forget-me-nots, euphorbias, rheum, rodgersias and tree peonies.
7 The Temple Garden
From the dell wander past roses and herbaceous to a statue of Princess Diana, then past lilacs in the old tennis court garden to the decorative temple flanked with shrubs, including cotinus.
8 The Sunken Garden
See clipped yew and vibrantly planted formal beds of tulips in spring and dahlias in late summer through autumn. At the bottom of the steps you come to the Bastion with uninterrupted glorious views across the fields dotted with sheep.
9 The Long Walk
A memorable, striking avenue of clipped yews is probably the most iconic vista of Hinton Ampner with its linear impact.
10 The Lily Pond
Nine different water lily varieties adorn the pond with the flash of goldfish and Golden Orfe below.
11 The Yew Garden
Attractive hexagonal bedding schemes of tulips and forget-me-nots in spring are followed by golden dahlias ‘Yellow Hammer’ edged with stripy Hakonechloa macra ‘Albo-aurea’ in summer.
• Free garden walks every Tuesday and Thursday
• Evening gardening walks
• Gardening workshops, £15
• Estate and parkland walks
• Woodland events
Did you know?
There used to be an old Tudor House, near to where the current house stands, that was believed to be so notoriously haunted that it became uninhabitable and was demolished. There are still stories and sightings in the gardens today. Some say the story became the idea for Henry James’ ‘The Turn of the Screw’.