It was an early 08.30 start on 7th June for members of the Felpham & Middleton Horticultural Society in order to visit two very different but equally lovely gardens in one day. Mottisfont was our first stop and as with all Abbeys it was built close to life sustaining water. Leaving the coach we crossed the small bridge over the River Test, one of England’s rare and beautiful chalk rivers. We could see the large brown trout through the crystal clear water. From here it is a little walk past the house and winter garden to the first walled garden.
Climbing roses decorated the walls of this newly built vegetable garden surrounding the central water feature. Every vegetable and herb could be found in the brick built raised beds.
Wandering through to the ‘piece de resistance’ of the glorious rose gardens, for which Mottisfont is famous, we were not disappointed. Rain had been forecast but we basked in sunshine as we took in the wonderful sights and smells of roses of all imaginable colours and perfume.
The tall walls were adorned with climbers some of which were still in bud to delight later visitors. The roses were supported by perennials but the irises in pale and vibrant hues had to be admired and the stately foxgloves gave height and elegance amongst the shrubs and small trees many clothed in clematis. The rose gardens are laid out in a symmetrical style criss-crossed by straight paths giving central areas for small lawns and allowing for the many borders to be easily inspected in all their glory.
We retreated to the stable area for lunch under cover and the skies opened for a heavy shower but as we left to continue our visit the sun returned. Previously a medieval priory, the house was made into a home in the 1930’s and the tour of the interior looked almost as if the inhabitants would be back any moment as it was set up for the era so well. The maids/servants quarters were, of course, more austere and theirs was a much harder life. We marvelled at the incredible clarity of the natural spring water – it looked and probably was good enough to drink – the monks certainly did and was the reason why they built their monastery here. This spring is protected by a brick wall and feeds into the River Test. Before finally leaving a walk around the natural winter garden showed off how colour could continue through the colder months. The evidence of hellebores, cornus, grasses and trees which give vivid autumnal colour could be seen amongst the mostly green foliage at this time. Given more time there is a pretty walk along the River Test – an experience to look forward to.
Around 2.00 pm the coach left for Longstock Water Gardens. Here again in sunshine the group were met by the Head Gardener who gave us the history of its origins and explained how the water is diverted from and returned to the River Test and also how the many small island beds in the water were hand made.
Allowed to wander the stunning sight of a mature white wisteria that took our breath away came into view and wandering further around this amazing water garden laid out naturally with meandering paths and mature trees, we were treated to the sight of large shrubs interspersed with delightful flowers and narrow wooden bridges we could cross – the only way to see some of the flower beds which along the edges included many colourful plants that love to have their feet in the water.
The views across the colourful islands and water with just the sound of the birds increased the feeling of being in a magical and peaceful place that seemed a world away from the hubbub outside. The concept for this garden is so very different from the normal layout but it is absolutely delightful.
It seemed impossible that this wonderful garden and all its islands are maintained by the Head Gardener and just 2 others. All too soon it was back on the coach but with plenty of ideas on how to include just a little bit of Longstock heaven and Mottisfont beauty into our own gardens.
Report by Christine Dunham, Outings Organiser