HE WAS the "creative genius" who helped a team of Hampshire gardeners win gold at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Tributes have been paid to master thatcher Simon Sinkinson, one of the key figures in the success of Furzey Gardens in the New Forest.

He made tiny fairy doors for the ten-acre attraction and also designed some of its best-known features.

Mr Sinkinson, who has died aged 59 after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, also made woodland doors and sculptures for Lamer Tree Gardens, near Salisbury.

His death has prompted a huge number of tributes on social media.

One person posted: "He was the most kind-hearted and sweet, gentle soul I ever met. I feel utterly heartbroken at his passing."

Furzey Gardens is run by the Minstead Trust, which helps people with learning disabilities gain skills in horticulture and hospitality.

The trust's founder, the Rev Tim Selwood, said: "Furzey is well known for its rare plants, vibrant spring colour and tranquil location.

"But for many it is the distinctive thatched structures and dozens of fairy doors dotted around the garden that give Furzey its quirky feel.

"These structures are the creation of our much-loved friend, creative genius and master thatcher, Simon Sinkinson.

"Simon first came to know Furzey Gardens when he worked as an apprentice on the roof of the newly-built gallery some 45 years ago.

"It was not long before he took on responsibility for all our thatched roofs and in the years that followed re-thatched them all at least once.

"Simon had a warm personality and a wonderfully whimsical sense of humour.

"This led him to secretly place fairy doors deep in the Forest where walkers and especially children might come upon them by chance.

"He offered to make some for Furzey and over the years their number grew. Like so much of what he did Simon made them all free of charge, just for love.

"He (also) designed and built many of the beautiful buildings we have in the garden today."

These included Typhoon Tower, Heaven’s Gate and The Lantern, part of the exhibit that won gold at the 2012 Chelsea Flower Show. The entry was designed with the help of TV gardener Chris Beardshaw.

Mr Selwood said: "Simon's most enduring legacy for the Trust is the way he not only embraced our caring ethic but helped shape it in so many ways."

Mr Sinkinson lived at Winsor, near Cadnam.

His daughter Florence paid tribute to his inspirational work, adding: "He was also a lovely father who was kind and made even the mundane things exciting."