I’ve previously mentioned the impressive approach to Parham House which draws you along a meandering drive through 875 acres of estate parkland and grounds. And I can’t help but wonder how this approach must have felt in centuries gone by as you arrived in this remote corner of Sussex by carriage to see the grandeur of the house and gardens in the distance before you.
An evocative arrival
The parklands and grounds at Parham are extensive and include a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a deer park, and many ancient trees some of which are thought to be 500 years old. The deer can claim ancestry back to the original herd first recorded in 1628 and there’s an intriguing interruption to the undulating park caused by a sandstone quarry.
A public footpath runs through the park from Douglas Lodge, off the A283, to West Lodge, on the Rackham Road, and this offers up tantalising views of the house across the lake. Throughout my visit to Parham, I was struck by how each corner of the grounds, each garden, rose bed, or pathway conjured up glimpses of the ghosts of the past, and as soon as I entered the parklands, I half expected to see the likes of Jane Eyre or Mr Darcy striding across the grass towards me.
Parham House is Elizabethan and stands proud and glorious against the backdrop of the South Downs. To visit the Pleasure Grounds and gardens you pass through the impressive quadrant at the front of the house along with the sculpture of the River God, then up some steps and through a gate in the wall.
The grounds are notable for their silence; there is no traffic or air noise, just the occasional bee, some birdsong, and a sense of quiet that almost shimmers. With the imposing silhouette of the house behind you and views of the Downs across the Pleasure Grounds ahead of you, you turn to your right and walk down a long path to the walled garden. It was here I was sure I could hear the rustle of Elizabethan skirts and the giggles of their owners.
The Walled Garden
Entering through a pair of iron gates guarded by two stone lions, the Walled Garden’s loveliness took me completely by surprise. It extends to four acres and divides into all sorts of different sections. Up until the 1970s, it was a working garden providing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers for the house and you really still get a real sense of that role.
Since then, the borders and beds have been developed into an abundance of colour, form and style and now include blue, white, and gold borders, the herb garden and rose garden as well as the orchard and vegetable garden. As you explore, you’re taken down great long pathways swathed in colour from either side, into enclosed secret style gardens, you’re offered up views of the Dovecote and you discover all sorts of hidden treasures like the Carrara marble statue of a dying soldier which dates back to the mid 19th century.
There are dipping ponds, wells, intriguing doors, old statues, large pots, hidden alcoves, seated areas, lily ponds, and all sorts of delights, all surrounded by a beautiful old wall.
The Greenhouse and Wendy House
As you delve in further, you come to a long, thin, 1920s greenhouse filled with succulents, colourful geraniums and a collection of old tools.
Then in the far corner of the garden, you stumble upon the Wendy House. Built in1928, it’s a miniature cottage built into the wall. Pass through a gateway and up some steps for views from above the Walled Garden and then back down to the three arched summer house where you’ll also find a rather beautiful 20th century white marble statue of a lady.
The Pleasure Grounds
From the summer house, the Pleasure Grounds bring a different selection of treats. You can try and beat Veronica’s Maze, a brick and turf maze created in 1991 in which you’re only allowed to go forward.
Or, as you pass a pair of stone sphinxes and another gate back into the Walled Garden, head over to the large pond and Cannock House, a small building overlooking the water.
The house and church
When you’ve had your fill on colour, beauty and serenity, a visit to the house and church is a must. Home to the most incredible collection of art, artefacts and treasures, the house is as splendid and opulent on the inside as the grounds outside suggest.