The Ladies of Hinton Ampner
‘Constable’ skies of bright blue and towering cloud hovered over the lush May foliage on our journey east to the National Trust Neo Georgian manor house with prospects far and wide across the rolling Hampshire countryside. Given a Victorian gothic update in 1865, with few facilities, in 1936 John Dutton, 8th Lord Sherborne, envisaged a return to its Georgian roots and again after WWII, redecoration was required which took fifteen years then followed by a fire: undaunted the house was made habitable again within three years. A Georgian hall leads into an exquisite regency drawing room and library, the departed owner still incumbent in spirit, and notable ceramics meant the dining room and upstairs bedroom seem less bleak by comparison.
Beyond the Tudor stables is the walled garden: which once housed a swimming pool, the NT shop a bathing house for pool parties. Where once the tennis court balls rang, there are vegetable beds overseen by a gardening scarecrow, lawns and cut flower beds and adjacent to glass houses, bright iris beds. A path bordered by ancient, espaliered trees and herbaceous borders lead to an orchard with topiary divisions and a view of the ancient church tower, with notable modern stained glass. A bench outside in the sunshine provided a welcome rest for lunch.
Topiary and hedging is prevalent in the rest of the garden, providing division, adventure and backdrop for herbaceous borders. An old footpath was moved to the east to accommodate an oval low lying and protected hidden dell with bananas and other luxuriant planting providing a secluded spot. Paths converge into formal terraces running east west to the south of the house, many of them ending with statues of goddesses scantily robed and framed by trees or topiary. There is also a small temple, where looking south the remains of an ancient lime avenue led to the original Tudor manor and now passes below a lawn tennis court and wooded glade to wander through. Above, the tulips in the formal garden were over, but the reduced croquet terrace led down to a sunken garden and curved ha-ha where irises flourished, sheltered from southerly battering, as well as peonies of mischief, Aquilegia and early roses to match amongst the topiary of yews.
Returning to the front door via rose beds, lawn and lily pond, a walk between the walled garden and orchard takes one past a huge cloud hedge overlooking the site of the civil war battle of Cheriton. A small path leading through a jungle of magnolia and other shrubs, with outstanding bird song, found another shaded lady before returning to the site of the original house, well and orchard. From here the Georgian house is indicated with a window either side the grand porch, compared to the extensions and pretensions of later owners.
The house and garden seemed evocative of mid 20th century entertaining, where once glamorous frocks and DJs would mingle on summer evenings and now a warm welcome awaited the B&DGC In view of the boxes of plants that departed the coach on return, happy planting.
There is more on line about The Story of Hinton Ampner for the drama and history of the estate with its haunted Tudor Manor, battle ground, tenants, school, fire and a man’s ambition for a comfortable home and gardens.
Text by Sarah Herring and Photos by Tim Gale & Sarah Herring