At this time of year, it can feel a bit relentless. Cold weather, wet weather, repeat. We know that spring is just around the corner and yet it still feels beyond our reach. But the evenings are getting lighter, the first green shoots are visible and we’ve got three very different suggestions to help you while away the weekends until the clocks spring forward and we can officially declare that we’ve survived another Sussex winter.
Catch the first of the flowers
I become almost obsessed at this time of year with the first glimpses of colour, from snowdrops and daffodils to hawthorn blossom and crocuses. And although it may not seem an obvious time of year to visit some of our county’s gardens, there are actually some rich pickings to be had.
In Mid Sussex, Nymans is a great winter and spring garden and in the walled garden you’ll find daffodils and the great pink bursts of camelia. They also have an impressive collection of magnolias some of which can bloom as early as February and March. Not far from Nymans, Borde Hill, just outside Haywards Heath reopens its doors on the 19th February and some of their magnolias are over 100 years old and came from some of the great plant collecting expeditions. From the 29th March they also run guided magnolia walks.
In East Sussex, Standen House near East Grinstead is the place to go for award-winning camellias, hellebores, snowdrops and heather. Equally, Southover Grange in Lewes is a pretty walled garden with a winter-flowering bed and what is thought to be a 350-year-old mulberry tree. At Sheffield Park, their Nellie’s Arctic Adventure is open until 27th Feb, which includes a great polar bear and an ice cave. There are also snowdrops, red barked dogwood, purple toothwort and of course, daffodils.
If you’re in West Sussex, Highdown Gardens just north of Worthing is where you’ll find snowdrops, camellias and crocuses. Meanwhile, West Dean Gardens just north of Chichester offer form, structure and Edwardian charm with spring bulbs, magnolia and a surrealist tree in the Spring Garden.
If you don’t fancy the great outdoors, why not overindulge with a luxury afternoon tea. If you really want to push the boat out, head to Leonardslee House just outside Horsham where their tea is brought to you by their Head Chef Jean Delport of Michelin star Restaurant Interlude. It starts at £45 per person for a traditional afternoon tea but for £55 you also get a G&T.
Or perhaps you want to travel west to Chichester and enjoy a traditional afternoon tea of smoked salmon, egg mayonnaise and cucumber sandwiches; scones with jam and clotted cream, along with a selection of sweet treats at Pallant House Gallery. Their tea costs £22.50 per person, and an additional £7.50 per person for some sparkle, and of course, you can explore the gallery while you’re there.
Turn your sights to the east and The Sussex Exchange in St Leonards on Sea near Hastings for an “exquisite afternoon tea experience in the stylish Treehouse”. Their afternoon tea can be served with a traditional cup of tea, boutique cocktail or a glass of bubbles. Prices start at £25 per person and go up to £65 per person for tea with a bottle of Champagne.
Finally, Ashdown Park Hotel near Forest Row offer award award-winning afternoon teas piled high on bone china plates and served in their period lounges. Prices range from £30 per person or £58 per couple during the week and £33 per person or £62 per couple at the weekend.
Stargazing on the South Downs
The South Downs National Park is also an International Dark Sky Reserve and each February they celebrate this with a two-week Dark Skies Festival. There are lots of activities on offer including educational talks and virtual tours but they also have various spots along the South Downs which are recommended as the best places to enjoy dark skies.
In Sussex, these include Harting Down, Iping Common, Bignor Hill, Devil’s Dyke, Ditchling Beacon and Birling Gap. So next time there’s a break in the rain, why not take yourself off with a flask and a thick coat and soak up the stars while you wait for spring to arrive!