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Hampshire has forever been associated with a relaxed gentility, thanks to Jane Austen and her novels that make so much of the landscape. There is no better way to admire man-made Hampshire than at some of its premiere gardens. If you are looking to thoroughly explore the botanic background of this county, renting a pretty Hampshire cottage is a great way to start.

Exbury Gardens & Steam Railways

This garden is built and owned by the Rothschild family and Lionel de Rothschild bought and began building Exbury in 1919. Covering 250 acres this enormous estate is a private woodland of Lionel’s that has been passed through many generations.

If you are visiting this garden as a group, consider a garden tour to further explore the historical and horticultural aspects of this well-crafted piece of land. With so many terrains and conditions represented at Exbury, it is hard not to come away feeling inspired, and though you may not be able to implement changes on the same scale as at Exbury, the bog garden, winter garden, rock garden, and azalea drive may all encourage you.

Sir Harold Hillier Gardens

Sir Harold Hillier Gardens have long been known for the elegance and importance of the collections held there. We spoke to Sophie Smith from the gardens who gave us a few more details:

“Established in 1953 by the distinguished plantsman Sir Harold Hillier, the gardens currently hold one of the world’s most important plant collections and offers breath-taking beauty and tranquillity whatever the season. At 180 acres, it is home to 14 National Plant Collections making the gardens one of the most important plant collections in the world.

“Whatever your age the gardens are an amazing place to visit all year round with a fantastic woodland tree house, wobbly bridge, flying carpet swing and Jurassic Gunnera Boardwalk this is a perfect day out for all the family. Trails run all year round, and you can explore the giant willow sculpture pine cone trail.”

Sophie encourages people to visit during the different seasons as the gardens have so much to offer that cannot all be seen in one visit. Sir Harold Hillier Gardens is one of the largest winter gardens in Europe, while spring offers “breath-taking gorgeous displays of Magnolias, Camellias, Azaleas and Rhododendrons”.

“In summer, the gardens are renowned for the Centenary Border which is 250 metres long. Double edged, it is one of the longest borders in Europe and well worth a visit. In autumn, the gardens are awash with colour as the leaves change and are perfect for a walk to get you in the autumn spirit,” adds Sophie Smith from Sir Harold Hillier Gardens.

Furzey Gardens

Furzey Gardens are fun, informal, and boast spectacular colour all year-round, so whenever you book your Holiday cottage, you are sure to enjoy a walk in these 10 acres. First planted by the Dalrymple Family back in 1922, it was difficult to keep up the maintenance after the Second World War and fell into disuse. From 1986, Furzey Gardens teamed up with the Minestead trust to offer support to young adults with learning disabilities. Though this began with Martin Lenaerts, a former Cistercian monk with a background in horticulture, the positives and therapeutic effect of working within the garden was realised.

The team at Furzey comprises around 30 members of staff with up to 20 volunteers all helping to maintain these gardens. It has been featured at Chelsea Flower Show in 2012 under the stewardship of Chris Beardshaw.

If you are intending to visit Furzey with children, look out for the 40 odd fairy doors that are hidden around the grounds. Master Thatcher Simon Sinkinson has been adding these magical portals since 2006 and they make an exciting pass-time for children to spot.

Houghton Lodge Gardens

These 14 acres are made up of different gardens, each with impossibly decadent names. Though the Peacock Garden may sound extravagant, this collection of wonderfully maintained topiary mirrors the birds they are named after. The orchid house is an exploration into the exotic as the collection at Houghton Lodge has been carefully maintained and these tricky plants are shown at their best.

The house was designed as a Cottage orné, a rustic retreat where the gentility could play at country living. Designed and built in 1793, the house is only open a couple of times a year, but if your visit to Hampshire coincides, the tour is well worth the wait as it brings out all the personality this charming house has to offer.

Image Credits: Peter Tullett Leiminide Henry Burrows Herry Lawford