16th century thatched cottage at Furzey Gardens
16th century thatched cottage at Furzey Gardens

Furzey is an informal modern garden set around a 16th century cottage, located in the heart of the New Forest near Minstead. There is ample botanical interest at all seasons of the year, with a lakeside walk, heather garden, and summer and winter flowering trees and shrubs.
The gardens were established in 1922 and focus on flowering shrubs and bulbs planted for year-round colour, with plants gathered from all over the world. Spring brings out azaleas and Chilean fire trees, along with carpets of snowdrops, crocus, bluebells, and daffodils.

Summer is the best for flowering shrubs and trees like genistas, and 6 different varieties of Eucryphia from South America. Autumn brings out fiery colours, with birch by the lakeside, and Amelanchier, plus Enkianthus varieties chosen for their bright colours. Even winter brings colour, as a large number of heathers make the gardens a delight.

A lovely little 'fairy door'
A lovely little 'fairy door'
One rather enjoyable feature is a number of small 'fairy doors' hidden throughout the garden. These fairy doors are great fun to search for, and children can leave messages or gifts for fairies at the doors.

History

The thatched cottage at Furzey was built around 1560, using timbers from the boatyards at Lymington. Research has shown that the floorboards were once ships decking and the beams were originally Tudor ship timbers. Ancient timbers found under the floorboards were reworked to form a sculpture known as Typhoon Tower, which acts as a focal point in the garden.

The cottage was remodelled in the Regency period with new windows. Restoration has uncovered the original 16th century fireback and bread oven built into the chimney. The cottage once housed a family with 13 children, which hardly seems possible when you see how cosy it is! There is a small display on the history of the cottage and its owners.

There is a thatching exhibition and occasional demonstrations by a skilled thatcher. A thatched gallery space hosts exhibitions of local paintings, sculpture, and photography.

Award-Winning Gardens
The garden also works closely with the Minstead Training Trust, which offers horticultural training for adults with learning disabilities. Trust students work in the gardens and the nursery developing their gardening skills. Those skills came to the forefront in 2012 when the student's show garden was awarded a gold medal at the 2012 RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The garden prepared for the show is now permanently installed overlooking the lake.

Visiting

Finding the gardens is a bit of a challenge! Furzey is located amid a confusing maze of rural lanes, with only a few passing places. Do take care; we found the roads exceptionally narrow, with severe drops on either side of the paved areas. Having said that, the gardens themselves are a delight. I watched with a smile as children discovered the little 'fairy doors' scattered throughout the gardens. Several garden viewpoints and summerhouses are crafted from natural materials, with tree branches woven to create walls.

One of the most unusual features is Heaven's Gate, a quiet garden space created for contemplation, a 'sky viewer' with views planned to sit and watch the clouds float by. Another feature is the Typhoon Tower, a wooden tower atop a wooden viewing deck.