As I plan my Sussex adventures for the next year, it’s a good time to look back and reflect on some of the amazing places I’ve visited in the last 12 months. 2021 got off to a slow start due to lockdown but nonetheless, once we got started, it was a bit of a whirlwind of wonders! So, if you’re planning on exploring some of our county in 2022, here are a few ideas.
Arundel Tulip Festival
I was blessed to visit this on a gloriously clear, sunny day. I was first through the gates so had been round once before most people arrived. It’s held in mid-April and a great way to celebrate the arrival of spring. Swathes of colour fill the gaps in amongst the Italian style water gardens, fountains, pots and herbs gardens. With the stunning cathedral as a backdrop, on a sunny day, it feels like you’ve been transported to an exotic, extravagant and magical corner of somewhere far away. If you can, visit the castle too as part of your visit.
St Mary’s, Bramber
I stumbled upon this garden on a wet spring day by chance. It was closed at the time but it was so intriguing I contacted the owners and went back. There are a number of things that captivate the soul from a visit to St Mary’s: partly the immense sense of history that dates back to the Knights Templar and weaves its way through the centuries with notable visits by kings and queens to the present day. And it’s partly the passion of the owners who have dedicated over 40 years to restoring and preserving the gardens, and in doing so, have knitted their own history into every leaf and flower. And it’s partly because it has a quiet and unobtrusive charm and beauty all of its own.
Parham House and Gardens, Pulborough
Having walked through the parklands at Parham a couple of times, and viewed the gardens from the lofty heights of the South Downs, I was excited to visit as soon as they re-opened post-Covid. And I loved them. They’re another place where the sense of history hangs in every corner and I kept expecting to pass a couple of Elizabethan ladies whispering in the long borders!
Driftwood Garden, Seaford
This garden made the list of my favourites for its wow and punch-packing status. It’s a small garden in an unassuming road just back from the Seaford seafront and it’s the work of just one man, Geoff. But what the garden lacks in size it more than makes up for with sheer pizazz and brightly coloured brilliance. It’s also part of Geoff’s phenomenal fundraising efforts. A visit won’t take long so my recommendation would be to combine it with a trip to Cuckmere Haven or the Birling Gap.
Unsurprisingly, I visited Bateman’s to see the home of Rudyard Kipling but was enchanted by the different elements of the gardens and grounds. From the formal lawns at the front to the Mulberry Garden, the Lily Pond and Rose Garden and the Wild Garden. My spring visit was filled with the heavy scent of blossom and bluebells and a walk around transports you back to different times.
Sussex Prairie Gardens, Henfield
I couldn’t not mention this garden which was an unexpected and exotic gem! I’d been lured here from tantalising Instagram images but wasn’t really expecting what I found. These gardens are delightful, with little accents dotted here and there in the shape of sculptures, and fabrics and all sorts. You’ll love the juxtaposition of the metal house with the soft grasses, and brightly coloured Canna lilies. A total feast for the eyes.
A favourite when my children were little, I hadn’t been for a while, when I visited on a hot July day. My residing memory is of panoramic views and hedonistic rose blossom. It’s another garden where there is so much to explore, with little pavilions and the long pergola, and the thought-provoking ruins standing proud and bedecked in luscious finery! Lunch at the Red Lion in Handcross afterwards perhaps?
Philip Jackson’s Sculpture in the Garden, Cocking
This was my all-time favourite garden of last year. It was a summer sculpture exhibition in Jackson’s stunning gardens, and I sincerely hope that it will be repeated in 2022 because it is fantastic. The garden itself is stunning enough with romantic views, waterways and hidden corners but the addition of the utterly compelling sculptures takes it to a whole new level. I am indebted to a stranger I met whilst at Cowdray Park who recommended it to me and if you are lucky enough to visit, it will take you from Venetian Operas to masked balls and whimsical thoughts. Tucked away in the west of our county as it is, other places in the area worth a visit are our Cowdray Park ruins or Uppark, with lunch at the Blue Bell in the village of Cocking.
I’ve loved all the Sussex gardens I have visited this year, but am left with an almost overwhelming sense of how much more there is to see! Almost overwhelming, but not quite and I cant wait for the first gardens to re-open in 2022.
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