It is a new year and the National Garden Scheme is all set to open a range of beautiful gardens across Sussex in 2023. Geoff Stonebanks, the publicity officer for East & Mid Sussex has liaised with his counterpart, Kate Harrison, in West Sussex to provide the low-down on where to visit and in this post, where to find Sussex snowdrops. Last year, the scheme was able to donate a record-breaking £3.11 million to its nursing and caring charities, notably Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Queen’s Nursing Institute and Parkinson’s UK to name but a few. Each month, right through until September, Geoff will be updating us on his selections on where best to visit across the county.
The NGS annual Snowdrop Festival kicks off the first batch of gardens each year and here are five places to find Sussex snowdrops in February.
Pembury House, Ditchling Road, Clayton, BN6 9PH
10th, 16th, 17th, 24th February, 10 am to Midday and 2 pm to 3.30 pm, £10, refreshments included. Pre-booked visitors only.
Depending on the vagaries of the season, Sussex snowdrops and hellebores are at their best in February and March. This is a country garden, tidy but not manicured with work always in progress on new areas. Winding paths give a choice of walks through 3 acres of garden, which is in and enjoys views of the South Downs National Park. Wellies, macs and winter woollies advised. Since Nick and Jane moved to Clayton, some 40 years ago, they have been able to establish the garden so that it gives pleasure throughout the seasons. An area of woodland was planted early on and the trees that were planted in 1984 are now mature trees, giving shelter to a wide variety of birds. The hellebores and snowdrops thrive under the woodland shade and then the ferns and shade-loving plants take over.
5 Whitemans Close, Cuckfield, Haywards Heath, RH17 5DE
1st, 3rd 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 14th & 16th February, 10.30 am to 4.30 pm £8, refreshments included. Pre-booked visitors only.
A relatively small cottage garden packed full of exciting and unusual winter plants, including many hellebores and ferns. All these Sussex snowdrops can be viewed from paths, so you can leave the wellies at home, but warm clothes are essential. See about 150 plus varieties of snowdrops and trees full of scent to add winter interest. Many delights in a small space, including winter flowering Clematis, so much to be enjoyed. The garden owner, who is a keen member of the Hardy Plant Society, has visited gardens for many years and her plot reflects her interest in plants and gardens. Growing from both cuttings and seed is a pastime of the owner too. Enjoy the snowdrop collection and a very large Daphne Bholua Jacqueline Postill, that scents the entire garden at this time of year. The delicious home-made teas, served indoors, including gluten free cakes, served on vintage china have been very much enjoyed by our garden visitors.
The Old Vicarage, The Street, Washington, RH20 4AS
16th and 23rd February, 10.30 am to 4.30 pm, £7. Pre-booked visitors only.
See 3½ acres of garden set around an 1832 Regency house, the front is formally laid out with topiary, a wide lawn, mixed border and contemporary water sculpture adding to the interest. Each year 2000 tulips are planted for spring as well as another 2000 Sussex snowdrops and mixed bulbs throughout the garden. The garden has many pockets of interest, like the Japanese garden with its waterfall, pond, bamboo and grasses, a further large water garden and numerous creatively planted herbaceous borders. A working kitchen garden has glasshouses, fruit cages, orchard and vegetables. The Italianate gazebo with green oak columns and lead roof offers a wonderfully comfortable place to sit and contemplate the beauty of this garden. Throughout, there are well placed seating areas to take in the stunning scenery. The treehouse is much loved by young and old alike, from here, the nature viewing platform opens on to the woodland copse area which incorporates a stream and architectural stumpery. Everyone loves the topiary of characters who watch over the tennis court. Whatever the weather, there is a haven in the conservatory where refreshments are available.
Highdown Gardens, 33 Highdown Rise, Littlehampton Road, Goring-by-Sea, Worthing, BN12 6FB
15th February, 10 am to 4.30 pm, entry by donation.
A visitor centre shares stories of the plants and people behind the gardens. A new accessible path leads to a sensory garden with a secret sea view. Highdown Gardens have been maintained by Worthing Borough Council for over 50 years on behalf of Highdown Pleasure Ground and Tower Trust. There are 8½ acres of stunning informal gardens on Sussex chalk downland, overlooking the sea, with a unique collection of rare plants and trees. Many were raised from seed brought from China by great collectors like Wilson, Farrer and Kingdon-Ward. The whole garden has been deemed a National Collection of Plants selected by Sir Frederick Stern. The Highdown team is starting a journey of sharing the National Plant Collection, opening its doors to more activities with discovery days during holidays, guided tours, talks, cream teas in the garden, Plant Heritage Weeks, educational workshops, horticultural trips, creative and wellbeing classes, festive events, wedding ceremonies and a “pop-up” shop selling a selection of plants of interest within the gardens. Check out the website for more information. www.highdowngardens.co.uk
Denmans Garden, Denmans Lane, Fontwell, Sussex, BN18 0SU
26th February , 11 am to 4 pm, entry £9. Pre-booked visitors only.
Denmans Garden is a tranquil contemporary garden on the southern slope of the South Downs. Converted by plantswoman Joyce Robinson from a post-war market garden to an ornamental garden, it comprises a diverse series of spaces, connected by curving paths of gravel and mown lawn through rough grass. Mrs Robinson, who lived at Denmans from 1946-96, was ahead of her time in considering the environment in her plantings and was a pioneer in creating naturalistic, low-maintenance gravel gardens. She started her gravel gardens at Denmans in 1970 and, inspired by the Greek landscape and the dry riverbeds of the South Downs, created two faux riverbeds on a slope formerly occupied by Guernsey calves. They terminate in a pond built by John Brookes MBE, one of Britain’s most influential and renowned landscape designers, who lived and gardened at Denmans from 1980-2018. Mr Brookes believed Mrs Robinson’s spontaneous plant combinations, which included grasses, herbs, shrubs and perennials, pointed the way of future gardening. He fused her novel planting style with his own characteristically bold design flair, focusing on structure, texture, pattern, and colour. Denmans is a Grade II, post-war garden, on the National Heritage List for England and also features a Walled Garden and a conservatory. Sheltered by the Downs and bathed in southern sunlight. The garden is full of unusual plants, some semi-tropical and some collected by Mrs Robinson and Mr Brookes from abroad. It’s known for its creative plant associations and seemingly random plantings juxtaposed against both clipped and natural architectural plants. The garden, which has benches throughout for contemplation, has a strong year-round interest and has been undergoing restoration since January 2018. Visitors will find inspiration and design ideas for gardeners of all skill levels and garden sizes. Staff are always happy to answer questions. The Plant Centre features for sale unusual plants, most of which are propagated on site. The Gift Shop has one-off garden ornaments, pots, and vintage accessories along with work by local artists and makers. Newly opened, Midpines Cafe, offers breakfast, lunch and a selection of sweet treats.
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