Mottisfont House

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Yesterday was the first sunny day this month which warranted the title “summer” so my wife and I decided to visit Mottisfont in Hampshire. Mottisfont is described as a “romantic house and gallery set in beautiful riverside gardens” and it certainly lives up to that description.

Although all of the furniture in the house had been sold off before the property was gifted to the National Trust in 1972, a valiant effort has been made to recreate the atmosphere that would have pertained after Maud and Gilbert Russell moved into Mottisfont in 1935. This has perhaps been achieved most successfully in the Whistler room. The room is a celebration of the artist’s troempe l’oeil decoration of the walls and ceiling – including a hidden image of the artist’s brush and paint pot – and laid out to capture the somewhat louche lifestyle of the household. A card table is set out as if in the middle of a serious game with cigarettes in the ashtray and cocktail glasses to hand. There is a baby grand piano, again adorned with a half empty cocktail glass and a smouldering cigarette, and the score of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” on the music stand. Indeed. Virtually all of the other rooms in the house have now been appropriately re-furnished and the house also boasts a fascinating range of paintings of the time, a gallery and a cellarium dating from the original abbey on which the house was built. At various points in the house, Maud Russell left ”windows” in the modern fitments of the house to enable glimpses of the abbey stonework and carvings. But wonderful as the house is, the pride and joy of Mottisfont is as the home for the National Collection of old-fashioned roses and it was to glory in the collection, superbly laid out in the walled gardens, that took us to Mottisfont. As befitting the National Collection, Mottifont aims to not only display the roses but to also educate and help gardeners interested in old fashioned roses. As part of that, they were showcasing Constance Spry as the rose of the week. Although born in a lowly brick built, end to end terrace in Derby, Constance Spry went on to become a renowned, florist, teacher and author providing the floral displays for a number of royal weddings. Such was her influence that the first rose created by the David Austin nursery in 1961 was named after her.

And the displays were wonderful; arranged over the various sections of the walled gardens which served to capture and amplify the heady scent of the old fashioned roses, it was abundantly clear that not only does their fragrance exceed that of the more modern floribunda roses, but the beauty of the old fashioned roses is also beyond compare. We were able to pass a blissful hour or two in the warm sunshine admiring the roses – not to mention the other plants such as peonies and clematis which have been skilfully placed to complement the roses.

Clearly, we were not on our own: the much awaited sunny day had also encouraged a large number of mainly older people – other silver travellers – to also venture out and visit Mottisfont. Some were clearly fit and fleet of foot, while many others were more measured in their pace, often with sticks or Zimmer frames to support them and with more than a few wheelchairs in evidence. We were, of course, more than willing to stand aside at various narrow points to enable the elderly garden aficionados to have an opportunity to appreciate the fragrant blooms. However, it quickly dawned on my wife and I that our generosity was all too often taken for granted and rarely acknowledged by even a smile. The worst offenders were a group of elder who had been bussed in by coach and whose mission appeared to be to trample round the gardens en masse irrespective of anybody else’s pleasure (or toes!). We often hear of the lamentable lack of manners in the young today, but I have to say that I have seen little real evidence of that. What we did see at Mottisfont, however, was that, sadly, for many older people saying thank you seems to have been lost. We could all do better.

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