August Gardening - 'Charm', a look at Hill House Garden in Old Alresford

A traditional ethos makes for a lovely relaxed garden at Hill House in Old Alresford...

Sarah Richardson has continued to garden in the spirit that was started by her mother-in-law in 1938 at Hill House. When she and her late husband Billy took over the gardens were very established, with lawns, a long border and a traditional vegetable and fruit area.

“We have just kept it all going with only a few changes. We had to remove the formal rose garden as hybrid teas don’t do well in this chalky soil and also we took out a large cedar tree that cast too much shade on the garden and house,” comments Sarah. The garden has a lovely relaxed atmosphere, comfortable with itself and full of colour and interest, especially in late summer. Highlights are the impressive herbaceous border brimming with an assortment of vibrant perennials, extensive kitchen gardens with hens and bantams and a dedicated dahlia bed.

“I love the garden but also have lots of other interests and I wouldn’t call myself a fanatical gardener. It’s an old-fashioned border with no colour scheme, just a mass of mixed plants that have continued to thrive all these years and I like the old-fashioned vegetable garden and all the animals and chickens,” says Sarah. There is an innate eye behind the apparent artlessness, maybe inherited from her mother who was a very keen gardener. In any case the effect of a matured garden is enchanting.

With a structure and a successful palette of plants to build on, the garden has mellowed along comfortably. Many plants are propagated and grown on, the excess are sold at the local market, and ones added that do well in what Sarah describes as her ‘wildish garden’.

“My advice is to work with plants that like your conditions,” she adds. What works stays and is multiplied by nature or by Sarah with help from her two gardeners, what doesn’t, goes – a simple philosophy that works.

To keep the garden going with the very dry spring and summer, more watering than usual has been needed. Although rainwater is collected in water butts, Sarah finds the sprinkler and hosepipe preferable for the vegetables and tries not to water the flowers to make them put down longer roots and cope. A liberal application of manure in autumn or spring, along with compost helps to keep the plants healthy as well and helps combat any dry spells.

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Sarah has been opening the garden, in late summer when the border is at its peak, to visitors through the National Gardens Scheme for around 35 years.

“I enjoy meeting the people and it’s nice to hear their comments. One in particular told me that she thought the border was as good as anything at Wisley, which was lovely. It’s not a regimented garden so people can see their own garden in it and I’m sure many see themselves doing some of the chaotic things I do. I also pride myself in doing a very good tea with cakes that I make,” she smiles.

Sarah’s top tips

• Work with plants that suit

your conditions

• Repeat plants that thrive

• Work with nature, for instance I love romneyas which I have in one area and when they popped up in the gravel path it was an added bonus as I haven’t been able to get them to propagate from cuttings

• I use hazel sticks in the border as supports in April before the plants grow up

• I leave the border until just before Christmas before cutting it down

• My dahlias are traditional varieties, I have found I can leave them in the ground over winter, covered with straw and fleece and they survive.

• I find a tiny bit of salt on the centre of a dandelion works magic to kill them

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