Water garden conference features fascintaing tour -


Pools of Diversity

by Pat Clifford, Senior Horticulturist, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh,
Click images to enlarge

Join me as I relive a memorable water garden conference organised by the UK's vigorous PlantNetwork (the national network of over one hundred botanic gardens and arboreta and other documented plant collections in Britain and Ireland). We met in the summer of 2005 just outside of Southampton, England.

Before the conference began, I visited the eye-catching waterside and bog gardens at Wakehurst Place. Sometimes people describe it as "Kew in the Country" because the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew manages it. With great emphasis on conservation, their publicity states "with the Millennium Seed Bank - the world's most ambitious conservation project -- firmly established", its "Loder Valley Nature Reserve embraces three major types of local habitat; woodland, meadowland and wetland." 

< Wakehurst Place: Top - The Mansion House, bottom - View over the lake

Next, I travelled three miles northeast of the historic market town of Romsey to visit the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. Established in 1953 by the distinguished plantsman of the same name, it embraces 180 acres of rolling Hampshire countryside. They maintain a collection of over 42,000 plants from temperate regions around the world set in a variety of themed landscapes. Of course, their beautiful pond especially attracted my interest.

< v Sir Harold Hillier Gardens >

Entitled Pools of Diversity, the extraordinary three-day horticultural gathering focused on the management and maintenance of water gardens. Speakers addressed diverse aquatic subjects ranging from "Water Health and Safety" to Cultivation of Native Aquatic and Endangered Species" and from "Bog and Stream Gardens" to "Restoration of Wetlands in Historic Landscapes". My PowerPoint presentation there dealt with "Tropical Aquatic Displays under Glass".

The first site I visited as part of the programme was Staunton Country Park, Havant, Hampshire, described in their literature as "Set in 19th century pleasure gardens, this beautiful landscaped parkland includes, follies, an ornamental farm and amazing glasshouses." Their wonderful ornamental lake and amazing period Victoria House greatly impressed me. Knowledgeable Head Gardener Chris Bailey personally led our instructive tour. 

 ^ Staunton Country Park v

In particular, Longstock Park Water Garden, Stockbridge, Hampshire, captivated me and everyone else. Their web site says it best, "Enter the garden and you step into one man's vision of paradise. A timeless place of broad vistas, secret nooks and secluded inlets. A sanctuary for wildlife and rare trees and flowers, where every woodland clearing reveals a fresh pleasure. A world of tranquility, where the seasons are charted by the colours gently rippling in the mirror of the lake and where the calm is only disturbed by the song of falling water or the whir of a startled wren seeking cover." The consensus of IWGS members who visited in 1989 was that it “is the finest water garden in the world”.

Longstock Park Water Garden

The enthralling seven-acre garden includes two and a half acres of lake. The River Test feeds the ponds with water that remains very clear. With its varied habitats, the garden provides the ideal environment for cultivating a great diversity of water-loving plants. Longstock displays over eighty different types of waterlily alone. 

Check their web site before visiting; Longstock only opens to the public a very limited number of times a year. These open days benefit local charities and good causes.

The Garden's international reputation also means that they receive many requests for visits from horticultural societies around the world. Happily, the head gardener conducted the tour for our group. With only forty or so attendees in our party, the tranquility of the place, surely one of its main attributes, was preserved for our wonderment and pleasure. 

Gallery from Longstock Park Water Garden >

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