Woodland Wonderland

The New Forest has been long-celebrated as one of Europe’s most iconic locations for nature, in no small part due to its ancient woodlands. Rhinefield House Hotel sits deeply within this magical National Park, with gardener Dan Brown fulfilling the vital role of natural guardian to this historical and special place. Hand Picked magazine spoke to Dan about the challenges of working alongside the local wildlife and why the gardens provide a treasure trove for ‘tree-hunters’.

Dan’s unbridled love of working with nature is abundantly clear. He came to gardening through an enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits and, to his delight, found he could make a living while indulging in a life-long passion for observing the natural world. He is tasked with finding solutions to the myriad of challenges the natural world poses, from hungry caterpillars and garden pests, to drought.

With this part of the forest being very wild, it also has a certain charm, such as the pigs out for pannage getting into the gardens and upending the plants, or the ponies gaining access. One of the greatest challenges is refusing access to the indigenous deer population, whose enormous appetite is never sated.

However, it’s clear that every cloud has a silver lining; observing the wildlife has provided a catalogue of intimate moments, from baying stags and newborn fawns to dancing stoats, writhing snakes and passing ospreys.

One of the most striking aspects of these beautiful grounds is the multiple species of remarkable trees that total around 2,000 and thrive thanks to Rhinefield’s acidic soil. Unusually large conifers and other long overgrown nursery specimens are dotted around the grounds, providing a treasure trove for keen tree-hunters. It’s an aspect of the site that Dan is particularly passionate about. His favourite part is a woodland path that cuts through the grounds and is framed by enormous Douglas-firs and Redwoods.

If you want to catch a beautiful moment, he suggests walking through first thing in the morning when the sun rises – the moisture in the air and the low light create the most glorious golden rays, which shear through the tree canopy.

The grounds are filled with enormous redwoods and pines, gnarled contorted beeches, fluted and buttressed conifers, rubbing shoulders with monkey puzzle or specimen manzanita varieties.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Rhinefield is that, in many ways, what we see on the surface is just the fruit of the soil and mycelium thriving with thousands of living organisms to create an enormous abundance of life. If you want to know more about these magnificent trees that have been standing proud on Rhinefield’s land for hundreds of years, Dan will be around to help, doing what he does best in one of the most stunning National Park grounds imaginable.