History of the Gardens

The award winning Sir Harold Hillier Gardens is famous the world over. In 1977 Sir Harold left the Gardens under the sole trusteeship of Hampshire County Council. It is now run as a charity under the remit of horticulture, conservation, education and recreation. Among its outstanding features are the splendour of the seasonal planting displays set in 180 acres.

Sir Harold Hillier

In 1953 the distinguished plantsman, Sir Harold Hillier, established the Gardens and Arboretum. Over the many years he assembled a remarkable collection, in the aim to bring together the most comprehensive and unrivalled collection of trees, shrubs and hard hardy plants in the UK.

The Gardens were left under the sole trusteeship of Hampshire County Council in 1977. Run as a charity, the Gardens are continually developed to further Sir Harold’s philosophy of horticulture, conservation, education and recreation. In 1997 the Gardens were included by English Heritage on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.

Picture of Sir Harold Hillier

Sir Harold was born in 1905, the son of Edwin Lawrence Hillier, a world authority on conifers, whose own father Edwin had started a small florist and nursery in Winchester, in 1864.

Much of Sir Harold’s time was devoted to expanding his ever-growing plant collection. He corresponded with garden owners, curators and nurserymen all over the country, and, indeed, all over the world. Many plants from his visits to such countries as Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, the United States of America, and Mexico grow in the Gardens today.

Sir Harold was closely involved with deciding what was to be planted and where. It was common to see him on Saturday mornings in the Gardens with his first Head Gardener, Jack Brice, Sir Harold with a handful of labels and Jack with an armful of canes, marking out suitable planting positions.

Sir Harold died in 1985 but those of us who heard his voice, booming amongst the trees, will never forget him and in the Gardens he created we can still admire the same wonderful collection of plants that he raised, loved and knew so well.

History of Jermyn’s House

From medieval times the area now occupied by the Gardens was part of the vast Fleming estates. Known as the Manor of Romsey Extra, it consisted of woodland and grassland.

The date of the first house here is not certain; however, in 1724 a Farmer Jarman was reprimanded by the Manorial Court for taking land as ‘a backside’. That is, as a back yard of a house, or, presumably in this case, a farm. This does indicate that the original house here could have been built in the early 18th century. It also gives us the origin of the name.

After being used as a smallpox hospital and inoculation centre in the 18th century, the next record comes in 1808 when the house and 360 acres were leased to Frederick Blundell who was instructed to plant ‘proper and sufficient quick plants along the boundaries’, the first record of planting here. It was then sold in 1822 - the first time in several hundred years – to Sir Thomas Heathcote of Hursley Park for £2,103 17s 4d, around the equivalent of £272,000 today.

Sir Thomas, the fourth baronet of Hursley, had bought Hursley Park from Oliver Cromwell’s granddaughters. He died in 1825 and another member of the family, Gilbert Heathcote, bought Jermyn’s House. It was during Gilbert’s time here that extensive renovation was carried out and by the 1830s the house had largely assumed the appearance it has today.

In 1844 the house was sold to Captain Sergison Smith, from Staffordshire, for £4000. Local JP, Robert Linzee took on the house, but sold it in 1900 to Reverend Gordon. It subsequently passed through several hands.

By the beginning of World War ll it was owned by Brigadier General Cuthbertson, who made it the HQ for the local Home Guard. The General died before the end of the war and his widow sold the house to Lady Cooper.

In 1951 it was auctioned and the Hillier family took up residence in June 1953, the day after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.