Graham Stuart Thomas OBE was an exceptional horticulturist, he loved nothing more than working with roses and as the first Gardens Adviser to the National Trust, Stuart Thomas was responsible for the stewardship of over 100 gardens and the restoration of many. He was also a prolific garden writer publishing some 19 books on gardening, many which are still recommended as essential reading to new horticulturists.
Stuart Thomas regarded Mottisfont as his ‘masterpiece’, it is where his rose collection is based and where his garden design skills can best be seen. Stuart Thomas was also closely connected to Sissinghurst Castle, Hidcote Manor (where the famous red borders typify his style) and Mount Stewart to name but a few. In 1983 David Austin named a rose after him.
Stuart Thomas a quiet, slightly spoken gentleman would always be found wearing a fresh flower on his lapel, (which the gardens staff would be challenged to identify – I bet they loved that!) was the first Gardens Adviser at the National Trust who had acquired many gardens in the 1950s.
Prior to Stuart Thomas’s involvement in the gardens Geoffrey Jellicoe the architect, town planner, landscape architect and garden designer had made his stamp on the gardens with the pleached lime walk of red stemmed limes (Tillia platyphyllos ‘Rubra’) which was designed to evoke the architecture of the priories cloisters.
On closer examination the pleached limes also contain the parasitic Mistletoe…
The gardens are adjacent to the clear chalk waters of the River Test. In the 13th century there was a priory, however it is the Mill family, who were Georgian landowners who laid the framework of the garden, with Maud Russell commissioning leading garden designers of the 1930s to develop the garden.
The Georgian house has an imposing frontage.
However it is the gardens that are the star of the show, which are accessed by a wander up the wide gravel paths, past the pleached hedge and house, and crammed with roses and a fitting tribute to Stuart Thomas.