This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
The visitor from the direction of Southampton will find, at this season of the year, a pleasant walk from the station at Chandler's Ford to the lower lodge entrance to this fine domain; and having gained this point, he will find also that to reach the gardens he must traverse a well-worn footway, about one-third of a mile in length, right across the park; and which, if he is of an inquiring mind, will prove to him, as it did to ourselves, not the least interesting portion of the journey.
First, however, let me state of the park itself, that it comprises an area of some 500 acres in extent, is pleasantly undulating and finely timbered, some of the individual trees possessing enormous proportions; whilst beautiful groups of Chestnuts, Elms, Limes, etc, lend a leafy effect that is quite charming. Some 300 head of deer browse within the park, besides considerable herds of cattle; and these have eaten the whole of the branches from the base of all the trees to within 7 feet from the ground, so that there is an evenness throughout the park in this respect which adds greatly to its beauty; whilst the range of vision is neither marred nor broken, and the fine sturdy stems of the trees form a most pleasing feature in the landscape.
Starting from the lodge in our walk to the gardens, we come almost immediately upon the schoolboys' cricket-ground, on which the boys of the Hursley School are permitted to play whensoever they list. Still a little farther, and we reach that portion of the park on which the members of the Hursley Cricket Club practise, and where, on summer Sunday evenings, with the full concurrence of the worthy baronet, the labouring men of the parish play the noble game, and disport themselves in the innocent pastime, whilst their families and friends can enjoy without stint the full delights of the fine park and its sylvan scenery. Just away to the right hand we catch sight of the church, so long the scene of the labours of the late John Keble, the author of the ' Christian Year,' and from whence a private footway, running under a fine avenue of walnut-trees, leads to the mansion, where also I will carry at once the attention of your readers.
The principal front of the building faces in a southerly direction, and enjoys a rich and commanding view over a wide extent of wooded scenery. The centre portion consists of red brick with stone facings, flanked on either side by large wings of entire red brick. The mansion is a huge square building in form, and presents all those features of strength, massiveness, and durability, so characteristic of our best English country residences.
Immediately in front of the house runs parallel to it a broad terrace-walk, on the right hand of which is a narrow Italian flower-garden, whilst on the left sweeps away to the south a smooth expanse of turf, about 2 acres in extent, and which is bordered on either side by belts of fine Elms and other trees. This forms a delightful grassy glade, on which archery and croquet can be indulged in ad libitum. Passing on in a westerly direction, we pass a pretty sunken Rose-garden, and then, diverging to the right, the path leads through large masses of Rhododendrons, seedling forms of R. ponticum, as well as fine hybrid varieties, Kalmias, Laurels, and other fine shrubs that stand here and there upon the grass, down to a trio of extremely fine specimens of the Lime-tree, Tilia Europoea parvifolia, of the most noble dimensions, one of which is nearly 100 yards in circumference. From this point we turn to the left, and shortly enter an enclosed Rhododendron garden, which lies lower than the surrounding ground, and at the western extremity of which stands a pretty elevated summer-house, built in the form of a Swiss chalet, access to which is obtained from the outside by means of steps and a balcony, from which the spectator looks down upon an entirely unique rockery of the most unformal kind, and upon which are growing in great profusion a large variety of our hardy British Ferns, chief amongst which were fine specimens of the Royal Fern, Osmunda regalis.
The rock-work resembles mountainous and rugged scenery in its formation, and in one corner is a miniature lake, in which fish disport themselves in great serenity. This secluded spot forms a most delightful retreat, and might almost tempt the busy man of the world to turn hermit, so quiet are its surroundings. We now wend our way along the southern side of the pleasure-grounds, passing some fine specimen Magnolia acuminata, of great size, and covered with most luxuriant foliage. These trees blossom freely in the early months of summer. Then past a secluded poultry-yard and orchard, where the feathered occupants are confined to their proper limits by means of a tall wire-fence, and we come upon an interesting object, in the shape of a grove of the Ailanthus tree, Ailanthus glandulosa, of a circular form, and which is protected all over the top and sides by a close wire-netting, so that the birds may be excluded, lest they should prey upon the caterpillars, or Ailathus silkworm, that during the summer months feed and thrive upon the enclosed leafage.
This species of the silkworm was introduced from China about the year 1856, and differs materially from the Bombyx or Mulberry silkworm, both in its habits and the nature of the material it produces. Both insect and tree are rapidly becoming acclimatised, and the silk produced by each caterpillar is larger in quantity, but not so fine in quality, as that produced by its Mulberry namesake. The eggs are deposited by the moth in about three days after it has emerged from the cocoon, and these are hatched in fourteen days, when the young insects are placed upon the Ailanthus trees by some convenient mode, and they eat and thrive until they attain a length of from 3 to 4 inches. The caterpillars are green in colour, and apparently resemble the well-known Potato variety. At the age of from seven to eight weeks the cocoon is spun into a leaf of the Ailanthus, when they are carefully gathered and run on to a string and suspended for the winter in a dry room, in which state the chrysalis remains until the spring, when it emerges in the form of a moth, and once more the quickened insect life commences.