I am very fortunate to live very close to the wonderful Mottisfont Abbey in the lovely Test Valley, Hampshire, in southern England - it's one of the best gardens to visit in Hampshire. The crystal clear waters of the River Test are renowned for the trout and excellent fishing. Mottisfont is known by gardeners the world over for its collection of old roses, originally established in the walled garden by the late great Graham Stuart Thomas. Midsummer is not complete for me without a visit to Mottisfont to enjoy the scents and spectacle of the roses, enhanced by an array of wonderful perennials.
Best Gardens to visit in Hampshire: Mottisfont Abbey Gardens
Mottisfont, a National Trust property is lovely to visit at any time of the year for its rushing waters and wonderful trees in the grounds and park. Stately chestnuts, rolling lawns and a serene elegance sum up this wonderful Hampshire property. It’s a quiet place to walk in the autumn and winter, a lovely spot to enjoy the spring bulbs, but with the roses come the visitors. Somehow it feels right that Mottisfont is buzzing with rose lovers during the rose season and I’m pleased to be a part of it.
When I first knew Mottisfont the collection of old roses was entirely in one walled garden. The space is divided into quarters, each with a lawn surrounded by beds of roses and perennials. A wide border follows the walls; the bed along the walls edged with box overflows with old roses punctuated by the spikes of white digitalis. Of course the old walls are simply dripping with climbing roses.
The pathway through the centre of the garden is bordered by broad beds that erupt with crambe and cephelaria and more tall spikes of foxgloves. The peonies are truly spectacular; their display may be short-lived but it is certainly one of the most fantastic sights in the summer garden. Blue geraniums and the lovely sky blue Campanula persicifolia are such natural planting partners for the warm pink and crimson shades of the old roses. However for me the magic ingredient is always lime green alchemilla. Its fresh, frothy vibrance really brings those summer shades to life.
The pathway that runs across the garden is bridged with a series of archways garlanded with fragrant ramblers. The view through the archways in full bloom is an amazing spectacle and the perfume divine. This original walled garden benefits from mature apple trees which support rambler roses and sprawling shrub roses such as the lovely single Rosa complicata. Glowing pink blooms, golden stamens and a bewitchingly wonderful fragrance capture the simple beauty of the wild rose.
At the end of the long walkway of rose covered arches sits a white seat backed by the magnificent Rosa ‘Constance Spry’. This is an English rose which only blooms once but makes up for its lack of repeat performance with its scent. Huge, cupped pink blooms with the fragrance of myrrh and old rose are just captivating against the backdrop of old brick.
A few years ago the garden was extended into a second walled garden. Box gives way to lavender and newer varieties of English roses which repeat bloom have joined the ancient beauties. The central gazebo of rambler roses ‘Bleu Magenta’ and ‘Debutante’ has an airy grace and makes a lovely place to sit and absorb the fragrance of the flowers. On my last visit I was struck by the wonderful neat specimens of Rosa ‘Comte de Chambord’ that surround this central feature. I had forgotten how good this compact little shrub rose is, and what’s more it repeats. The scent is strong; pure old rose fragrance.
The garden has been further extended more recently to include a large entrance courtyard before the original walled garden. Here David Austin’s English roses predominate. Visitors love to spot the ones they grow at home and marvel at the flower power of shrubs like Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ which always looks particularly fine here. Some report that it gets rather leggy and ungainly, but those shortcomings are not evident in the flamboyant shrub I was looking at.
he versatility of the English roses is displayed by a number of specimens of ‘The Pilgrim’ grown as pillar roses in front of a tall yew hedge. Here straight poles rise out of the gravel. The roses are trained up the pole by spiralling the shoots around to encourage lateral growths and more flowers. ‘The Pligrim’ is soft yellow, wonderful rosette-shaped blooms against deep green foliage. This is a great variety for a shady situation, good in every way apart from its rather light fragrance.
There is no doubt that the rose season is late this year, and it appears to be a long one. The cool weather at the beginning of the rose season seems to have prolonged the display and roses everywhere are looking good as a result of plentiful rainfall earlier in the year. Warm weather at peak brings out the fragrance so all in all it’s the perfect year, but we were due to have one. The past two summers have been cold and wet and that never suits the old rose varieties; this year Mottisfont has a rose season rose-lovers dream of. I’ve visited twice so far and I will certainly give into the temptation to visit one of the best gardens to visit in Hampshire again.
Where to find it:
Mottisfont Abbey Gardens
Romsey, Hampshire SO51 0LP