Helen Rose’s Outdoor Diary, Hampshire

furze flowers hampshire

January 2024.


In the autumn I visited friends in Hampshire. Hampshire is a ceremonial county in South East England. It is bordered by Berkshire to the north, Surrey and West Sussex to the east, the Isle of Wight across the Solent to the south, Dorset to the west, and Wiltshire to the north-west. It is 429 miles south of Glasgow so requires a rail journey of about 8 hours with two changes of train. The Solent leads on to the English Channel. In fact, Hampshire is closer to France at 362 miles than to Glasgow!

John Hansard Gallery


In Southampton, I visited the John Hansard Gallery where there were two interesting exhibitions. The John Hansard Gallery is a leading public art gallery and part of the University of Southampton. It recently moved into Studio 144, a purpose-built arts complex in the city centre that also houses theatre company NST and City Eye, which supports film culture in the region.

Standing on the Edge Exhibition

The first exhibition was Standing on the Edge which was a Koestler Arts exhibition organised in association with the gallery and co –curated by ten learners from HM Prison Isle of Wight. The talent displayed in the exhibited works was amazing. Koestler Arts is the UK’s best known and oldest prison arts charity aiming  to inspire prisoners and people with experience of the criminal justice system to take part in the arts, (including fine art, design, music, poetry, film and performance), through the annual Koestler Awards programme, feedback on the work, exhibitions, sales, and mentoring. The art was produced at the prison to the sound of seagulls in the workshop. Well, it is on an island and evocative of the sea.

My favourite exhibit was WELCOME TO SELL which captures what it is like in prison in a warped cell behind bars but with a play on words. Very cleverly done. It is available to buy through Koestler Arts at £250.

Portraits in a Chinese Studio Exhibition

The second exhibition was the Grace Lau’s, Portraits In a Chinese Studio, created earlier this year. The first photographic portrait studios in China were set up in the mid-19th century by Western travellers. The studios focused on ‘exotic’ subjects such as opium smokers and courtesans. In 2005, artist Grace Lau created her own version of an old Chinese portrait studio in East Sussex. She documented the residents and tourists to Hastings as ‘exotic’ subjects. Open to anyone passing by, the project made a comment on Imperialist visions of the Chinese. By reversing roles, Lau became the Imperialist photographer, making portraits of the diverse people of a British seaside town. In February 2023, Lau’s Chinese Studio reopened in Marlands Shopping Centre, Southampton. Presented over Chinese New Year, the three-week installation resulted in over 600 portraits.

New Forest

The New Forest is famous for its wild ponies and is one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest in Southern England, covering southwest Hampshire and southeast Wiltshire. It was proclaimed a royal forest by William the Conqueror in 1079, featuring in the Domesday Book which is a manuscript of the great survey of much of England.. It is the home of the New Forest Commoners, whose ancient rights of common pasture are still recognised and exercised, enforced by official verderers who employ agisters. In the 18th century, the New Forest became a source of timber for the Royal Navy.

Furzey Gardens

Furrzey Gardens is located in the New Forest and has some very interesting features to look at when walking around the paths. The peaceful 10 acre woodland gardens includes a wildflower meadow, quirky thatched structures, dozens of fairy doors, play area with giant fairy door, lake,16th century thatched cottage and a recreated gold medal winning Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea show garden.

Thatched Cottage

The thatched cottage was particularly intriguing. Thatch is a traditional roofing material in many parts of England. It has rich regional traditions that contribute to the local distinctiveness of vernacular buildings. Thatch also has important archaeological value; for example, in some roofs medieval thatch survives below more recent layers. The materials used to create thatch, traditionally broom, sedge, sallow, flax, grass and straw, are very light. Apparently, there was a family with 14 children living in the cottage at one time and they would have slept on straw on the floorboards in the upper level. There are some thatched cottages in Fortinghall in Perthshire in Scotland. Fortinghall is an interesting place as according to legend, Pontius Pilate was born there while his father was on military duty in the Roman Army!

One of the displays in the cottage garden at Furzey was an amusing sculpture reminiscent of a scarecrow of King Charles 111 as this was coronation year.

Wedding Cake Tree

There are many interesting year round plants in the gardens and one of the most spectacular trees was known as the Wedding Cake Tree. Cornus controversa, syn. Swida controversa, is a species of flowering plant in the genus Cornus of the dogwood family Cornaceae, native to China, Korea, the Himalayas and Japan. It is a deciduous tree growing to 50 feet, with multiple tiered branches.

Furze Elm Table  

Under a thatched gazebo there is an unusual elm table in Furze Gardens called The Last Supper and weighing 2.5 tonnes. It is made from a single elm tree lost to Dutch Elm Disease in the 70s. Believed to be the largest elm table in the world, it took four months to carve and several more months to finish. It was made by Maxie Lane and donated to Furzey Gardens.  For a summer picnic, it could easily seat about 20 people under the shelter of the gazebo given our regular wet weather!

Unfortunately, the weather was mostly inclement on my visit but there is plenty to see in Hampshire known as Jane Austen country. I will have to return to see the Jane Austen Museum.

Coming attraction. Water of Leith 2

Weddings at Websters – Glasgow West End
New Years Eve at McChuills

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