Houghton Lodge Gardens
Houghton Lodge Gardens
Houghton is a delightful mix of formal and informal gardens beside the River Test. Here you will find imaginative topiary, including a dragon, chalk walled garden, woodlands walks to a secluded grotto, an orchid house, riverside walks, and lovely herbaceous borders.
The Gardens
There are 5 acres of gardens in a riverside setting. South-west of the house is a 19th century turreted grotto. There is a walled kitchen garden with fruit trees, heated greenhouses, and a long herbaceous border. Look for a peony walk and an avenue of old apple trees. One of the garden highlights is the Orchid House, with rare and exotic varieties of orchids. North of the Lodge is The Peacock Garden, featuring fanciful topiary. Beside the main garden is 14 acres of meadow walks through fields beside the River Test.

Houghton Lodge
The gardens provide a setting for the 18th century Gothic cottage of Houghton Lodge, which probably began as a fishing lodge. The Grade II* listed Lodge is one of the earliest examples in England of 'cottage ornee' style; a picturesque rural retreat. The architect may have been John Nash, better known for his ornate and lavish Gothic designs, including the Royal Pavilion at Brighton.

Colourful beds beside Houghton Lodge
Colourful beds beside Houghton Lodge
Cottage Ornee
The cottage ornee style developed as the upper classes discovered the pleasures of a very romanticised version of rural life. Houses became lower and less symmetrical, with servants relegated to cramped quarters underground or in a separate wing of the house.

At Houghton Lodge all the main rooms are on the ground floor - a real break from earlier country house tradition. The decorative style is reminiscent of Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill Gothic.

Houghton Lodge and grounds have appeared in numerous film and television series, including Murder at the Vicarage, and David Copperfield. The house was also a finalist in the Country Life Magazine award for England's Finest House.

The gardens are open daily from spring through summer, though they can sometimes be closed for weddings.

Visiting

We visited Houghton Lodge on a very wet day in June. The gardens were easy to find, being well signposted from Houghton village. Despite the rain we thoroughly enjoyed our visit (and yes, we did get wet). The formal gardens are a delight, and if you follow the mown path to the river you can see llamas grazing.

Children will love a topiary sculpture called 'Puff the Magic Dragon'. The topiary resembles a dragon, and there is a motion sensor that triggers a puff of smoke from the dragon's mouth when you come close. Its quite extraordinary to watch. The peacock garden is exquisitely beautiful, formed around a topiary sculpture of a peacock.

Houghton Lodge is something of a secret treasure; off the beaten path but well worth a trip to explore.