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.

Graham Thomas (Ausmas)

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 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.

Mottisfont abbey gardens pleached limes

On closer examination the pleached limes also contain the parasitic Mistletoe…

Mistletoe on the pleached limes at Mottisfont


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.

Mottisfont Abbey House

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, to the walled gardens, where there are pillars planted with roses at the entrance, The Pilgrim looking particularly attractive during our July visit. The Pilgrim is a repeat flowering, short climber from David Austin roses with a lovely light fragrance. The perfect choice for the entrance to a rose garden.

Mottisfont Abbey Gardens Rose The Pilgrim on pillar

Mottisfont Abbey Gardens Rose The Pilgrim

Soon the air is filled with the fragrance of another David Austin Rose Falstaff, a fabulous bush rose.

David Austin Rose Falstaff at Mottisfont Abbey Gardens Hampshire

Entering the first of the walled garden, which is dominated by a tea room, is a shed, dedicated to the memory of Stuart Thomas. With bug bingo and other games on display this is the home of the schools work, to engage a new generation of gardeners.

Words of wisdom from Graham Stuart Thomas were also on display, both on the walls of the shed and also on an old canvas bag. As they are rather profound and reminiscent of his writing style, we have featured them below…

Mottisfont Graham Stuart Thomas Botanical Drawing

Mottisfont Graham Stuart Thomas Quote No 3

Mottisfont Graham Stuart Thomas Quote No 1

Mottisfont Graham Stuart Thomas Quote No 2

The gardens, with their herbaceous borders which were replanted to Graham Stuart Thomas’s original plans were looking fabulous and well maintained. It is always a joy to overhear comments, one we liked was “I always look at how the roses die” explaining the concept of deadheading seemed a little cruel and so a wander with the camera ensued…

Mottisfont Abbey GardensAruncus dioicus was adding height and colour and textural interest to the border, could this be a “100 Pernnials” in the waiting?

Aruncus dioicus And Clematis \Perrin’s Pride” was looking stunning growing through an apple tree. Perfection.

Clematis 'Perins Pride' at Mottisfont

[to be continued shortly, the kettle is boiling]






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