Garden notes

Awake and up at 7:30 – I’m getting far too used to this. This morning we decided to forgo the morning walk and head, instead for Hinton Ampner. I’m sure we’ve already been but Mirinda doesn’t remember so we set out to prove it one way or the other.

And we still don’t know as it isn’t open on Thursdays.

We then decided to go and visit the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens at Ampfield, just outside Romsey. So it was a case of retracing yesterdays long tracks with Mirinda doubting my navigation but remaining silent as we pulled into the car park.

It was obviously Let Out the Crazies Day today and they were all on the road between Winchester and Romsey. I’m not sure why so many drivers waste their time playing chicken when there’s less messy forms of suicide. I won’t mention the woman in a wheelchair who hopped out and danced around the lawn before getting back in and driving off down the hill.

Anyway, Harold Hillier was the son of a world authority on conifers who was the son of a florist (not the artificial kind either). He (Harold, that is) collected together lots and lots of specimens from around the world (most of them by post) and gradually filled up 65 acres of land he purchased in 1952 attached to Jermyn’s House. By 1977 he had not only expanded the grounds but also made the Gardens into a charitable trust. It is now 180 acres boasting 42,000 plants and 11 national plant collections. It is one amazing garden!

We started off with a cream tea as we soaked up the splendid view down the valley towards…well, towards the rest of the garden I suppose. It stretches an awful long way. After our cream tea, we set off for the Winter Garden. Here, among the acers and maples and odd little sculptures, Mirinda found much to excite her and many new plants to inject into our own garden at some later stage.

The ‘odd little sculptures’, which are not always so little, are part of a yearly exhibit called Art in the Garden. 2006 marks the seventh year. It is a showcase for new and established artists to show their work. All the pieces are for sale – very expensive – and they are dotted all over the place. Some are awful, some weird and some downright peculiar but every now and then something really exciting appears. The glass shoes were good as was the lady in the lake. Still, all in all, it adds to the enjoyment of the garden.

Glass shoes

By the way, Jermyn’s House, pronounced ‘German’s House’ by the lady who sold me the guide book, was originally some farmer called Jarman’s, house.

Jermyn's House

It was used as a smallpox hospital in the 18th century. The house went through several owners. One of them, Captain Sergison Smith had a wife with some sort of minor ailment who took a tonic containing salicin (similar to aspirin). She would go to the chemist (Mr Jones) who would mix it up for her. Then one day he had a strange moment where he substituted strychnine for the salicin. Of course, Mrs Smith died an agonising death and Mr Jones was convicted of manslaughter. Mr Jones committed suicide. Harold Hillier eventually purchased it from auction in 1953.

This is where I gloss over the hours we spent wandering around this gigantic place, admiring the plants. We ended up back at the restaurant where we had lunch then we drove back to the apartment for a much needed rest. We watched a couple of programmes on the Archos – Gilbert White and Monk – and then prepared for dinner.

For dinner we decided to walk down to the Trout Inn to try their ala carte offering. I have to say it’s highly recommended. Particularly if you get the good waiter with the spikey hair. The other one is just plain scary. Rather than standing straight and asking if all is ok once or twice, this guy bends down and thrusts his face into yours and, with a Boris Karloff rub of his hands, asks “Is everything alright for you?” Strange guy. He also tried to talk a table of ladies out of eating ala carte as they could get two for one on the standard pub food. But enough of him.

I had a deliciously tender lamb rump atop dauphinoise potato and watercress with a garlic and Spanish sausage jus while Mirinda had a lovely beef Wellington. For dessert we indulged in sticky toffee pudding and ice cream – seriously yumbo! To accompany this delight I had a couple of pints of Old Bob…an obvious choice.

We then walked home down the pitch black road, across the invisible bridges, along the eerie tree lined drive and into the dark main building. There are no lights in the country and the moon had taken a holiday.

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