|HCC Site ID.||1916||Parish:||Winchester|
|Access:||Public Access||Ownership:||Winchester City Council|
Image – path with leaf-shaped stepping-stones
Location and Site
This small, Winchester City Council public garden is situated behind the Hillier Garden Centre, next to the West Downs Campus of Winchester University. It is accessed on a footpath from the Romsey Road or via Greenhill Road and Nursery Gardens.
In 1874 Edwin Hillier senior began to acquire land for growing roses, fruit and other outdoor stock. He initially bought five acres and later a further two acres from a Dr Thomas Hitchcock. In order to own all the frontage to the West Hill Nursery, he had also to acquire the tollhouse and garden, known as the Cock Lane Gate, which stood on what was then the Winchester–Romsey turnpike road.
The nursery now stretched from West Hill (Romsey Road today) down to what is now Greenhill Road, with long views over the countryside. Harold Hillier recalled how as a young boy in the 1920s he and his brother made a box on wheels and rode very fast down the hill from the entrance to the nursery on West Hill all the way to Greenhill Road at the bottom. The nursery became known as No.1 Nursery and was stocked with important trees and plants of the time.
Shortly after Edwin handed over to his sons Edwin Lawrence and Arthur, an article appeared in a 1914 Gardeners’ Chronicle which revealed that No.1 Nursery was laid out like a garden, with rare mature trees and shrubs, and was open to the public. ‘Within the boundaries of the ancient city of Winchester, Messrs Hillier and Sons have what may be termed a Home Nursery, where they display collections of their nursery stock … this nursery has but little likeness to the conventional. Were it not for the name of the firm at the entrance, it might well be imagined to lead to the gardens of a country estate … this nursery is open during working hours and the townsfolk and visitors fully appreciate the privilege of roaming around the delightful grounds without let nor hindrance.’ There follows a long description of what one could see in the garden, which would indeed have been a wonderful sight. Over the following years many unusual specimen trees and shrubs were planted around the site.
When Edwin senior’s grandson Harold sold five acres of the nursery in 1967 for a housing development, he moved some of the rare trees to his arboretum at Ampfield. In 1978–79 Harold’s son Robert sold another two acres for housing, with the proviso that half an acre behind the Garden Centre was planted as a community open space. This became known as ‘Home Nursery Green’. Some of the specimen trees from the original nursery can still be seen in Home Nursery Green and the Hillier Garden Centre. All are protected.
By 2003 Home Nursery Green had become little more than a thoroughfare between Romsey Road and the housing estate. The planting was overgrown, litter was building up and the site was described as ‘possible housing infill’. However, the surrounding 85 households were unanimous in a wish to ‘keep the Green as a space for the community’. A Home Nursery Green Group was formed to ‘take community ownership, and ‘… create a space that is attractive to people and wildlife’. The Green was designated an ‘Open Space’, to protect it for the future, with funding from Winchester City Council. A big clear-up took place and new planting was introduced, including 5,500 spring bulbs and 500 shrubs. A local wood sculptor, Andy Frost, created play sculptures designed by local school children – ‘Wobbly Snake’, ‘Sitting Area’, ‘Good Morning Mr Magpie’, ‘Spider Climber’ and ‘Fox Bench’.
However, by 2017 the Green was again looking neglected and in need of a make-over. After consulting some of the local community, City Councillors and Hampshire Gardens Trust, it was agreed that this was a unique green space within Winchester and should be restored and extensively replanted.
The whole of Home Nursery Green has been given a new lease of life with new planting suggested by Rosie Yeomans of Hampshire Gardens Trust, which also provided a new noticeboard detailing the history of the site and the specimen trees. The only survivors from the 2003 revival are the play area and a series of leaf-shaped stepping-stones laid out as a path, which little children love to follow. None of the play sculptures remain, but the ‘Fox Bench’ has been reproduced and placed where the original was – under a lime tree. The Garden is well tended by Winchester City Council, and from time to time local residents add new plants, such as spring bulbs. Neighbours also keep a watchful eye on the Green’s condition and usage.
Summary and Significance
The importance of this green space lies in its historic origins and its rare specimen trees. At the same time, Winchester is particularly fortunate in its proximity to water meadows which, together with other less extensive green spaces, such as Home Nursery Green, are essential for both the health and well-being of all those who live and work in the city.
HGT Research: June 2020
Hampshire Gardens Trust
‘Hillier, J., 2014, Hillier THE PLANTS, THE PEOPLE, THE PASSION, Hillier Nurseries Ltd