The gardens and grounds which surround the main house, though impressive in the spring, have inevitably lost much of their former magnificence. They were the creation of successive owners – Heathcotes, Nightingales and Chichesters. The 1825 sale particulars record that 1,300 acres were planted, criss-crossed by many miles of gravel drives. There was a walled garden (whose walls survive but which is now inhabited by the school’s sports hall!), a “Grotto finished with stones and shells having in front a basin with gold and silver fish” (apparently still surviving on private property near Ryedown Lane), and a pyramidical fountain (no longer there, but roughly amid the rosebeds leading towards the school swimming pool). There was also once a substantial summer house situated in the clump in front of the swimming pool.
The Nightingales used the occasion of their 1837-9 absence abroad to have further landscaping undertaken. The Wild Gardens, with their Long and Short Walks, were a particular feature, and were stocked with species which are still rare – presumably many of which were brought back by the family returning from their foreign ventures. At the top of the Long Walk stands the semi-circular stone seat popularly known today as ‘Cromwell’s Seat’ – so called because it was reputedly brought here by the Heathcotes from Hursley. Richard Cromwell, son of Lord Protector Oliver, was a former owner of Hursley Park.
The most potent myth concerning the Embley grounds is that Florence Nightingale was seated beneath one of the giant cedars of Lebanon (towards the swimming pool) when she received the first of her callings from God on 7 February 1837.
The present land holdings of the school have increased in recent times to 130 acres (52.6 ha); United Learning is committed to restoring the grounds to something like their former glory.