Association of Friends Groups
Townhill Park House Gardens, Southampton
Townhill Park House Gardens are Grade II Listed and are historically important because they were designed in 1912 by one of England’s greatest horticulturalists, Gertrude Jekyll. She planned about 400 gardens during her career, but very few are left as intact as Townhill Park. It is one of her greatest creations, consisting of a sunk garden, surrounded by a pergola, herbaceous borders, a herb garden and an extensive arboretum planted with many exotic trees. There is also an old apple orchard.
The mansion was built for Lord Swaythling, and after he sold the estate in 1948, the garden continued to be well maintained for many years, but by 1990 it had fallen into dereliction.
Hampshire Gardens Trust intervened to ensure that the collapsed pergola was rebuilt by the County Council before the house and grounds were sold to The Gregg School in 1994. The Trust also helped to set up the Friends of Townhill Park House Gardens , whose aim was to recreate the gardens as Gertrude Jekyll had planned them and to make the beautiful and historic landscape available for the public to enjoy and understand. The volunteer gardeners raised money for the restoration by holding Open Days. The sale of tea and cake, and visitor donations, meets the annual running costs and the purchase of plants.
The Trust provided additional support for essential restoration projects which proved too costly for the Friends group. A grant was given to reinstate large sections of dry-stone walling in the sunk garden which had been vandalised. Further financial help was given to repair the pergola in the Boudoir Garden. The restoration project is in its 21st year and the Trust’s continuing interest has been a great morale booster for the Friends group, from sending a representative to a conference on educational institutions set in historic landscapes, to giving advice on lime mortaring, and lobbying local parish councils for one-off grants.
The restoration of the formal gardens is as complete as any gardening task can ever be. It is ever-changing with the weather conditions and the endless growth of weeds. The gardeners have been beset by problems, deer with voracious appetites live in the gardens. This has meant that Jekyll’s planting plans have had to be adapted to find species which deer do not eat. Vandals have damaged hard landscaping structures, although the installation of security fencing has improved this problem. Slugs, droughts and frosts have done their worst but the volunteers have battled on and have now extended their work into the arboretum and orchard.
Townhill Park House Gardens can never be exactly as Gertrude Jekyll designed them, but they are lovely, and are appreciated and enjoyed by their many visitors.
Also available – “Townhill Park – the life and times of a Gertrude Jekyll garden” by Rosaleen Wilkinson price £10 available from the author 023 8078 1012
Volunteers in the Sunk Garden