Today I visited two truly wonderful and different gardens in Hampshire, but they shared a remarkable sense of tranquility. The first, Apple Court, near Lymington (above) was one that I have been trying to get to for several months now, while the second was one that a friend told me about - the gardens at the Hospital of St Cross in Winchester - where there was a festival of flowers. Both were very special.
Apple Court has been designed as a series of interlocking garden rooms, where the planting reflects the need to deflect the strong winds that come off the sea, which is less than a mile away. This is home to a National Collection* of hostas and hemerocallis.
Quite how they keep the slugs away from the hostas was a mystery to me until I met the owner's daughter, who explained the magic properties of copper when it comes to slugs, but I am sure that most of you reading this already know that trick. I have always shied away from hostas because of the way they disappear in front of my eyes!
The "rooms" here include white, winter, daylily, cottage and Japanese garden areas, interspersed with sculpture and carefully placed seating, so you can sit and enjoy the various aspects of Apple Court.
This really is a find, but do check opening times on the website, if you are planning a special visit.
The second garden I visited today - at the Hospital of St Cross in nearby Winchester - transported me into a different world again and I was lucky enough to visit during the annual Flower Festival. This is a garden steeped in history, overlooked by a church that dates in part to the Normans (c. 1135 AD), which is tended today by the residents of the alms houses within the hospital complex - some 25 elderly gentlemen who form a thriving community within the heart of a bustling city.
Every year there is a Flower Festival at St Cross, when parts of the hospital, which would not normally be open to the public, are host to spectacular displays like the one above.
But the garden is worth visiting with or without the special displays that I was lucky enough to see. It is a peaceful oasis within a thriving city, with beautifully-tended borders and a lovely small lake set against the backdrop of the church. And the Hospital of St Cross is famous for its ancient tradition of "The Wayfarer's Dole" - a drink of beer and bread given to visitors who request it - which dates back to the days when the pilgrims broke their journey here.
Admission to Apple Court, which is open from March to October, is £4.00 and it has an exceptional nursery, with a huge range of hostas, hemerocallis and ferns. I have rarely seen such fine ferns!
The gardens at St Cross are open throughout the year (check website for details), and this makes a wonderful start to a tour of Winchester.
*For further information on National Collections of plants in the UK check this link: http://www.nccpg.com/