From fairytale castles to secret gems, there are lots of gardens to explore in East and West Sussex. Plan a day-trip from London or stay for longer in one of the many award-winning hotels or country pubs. All of these gardens have their own quirks – take a look at the photos and read their histories.

To help you choose, here is a list of the gardens with info about where they are, when they are open and entry details.

And ALWAYS check the garden’s website before visiting as some gardens can close at short notice – click on their name below

 

Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle | Arundel in West Sussex | BN18 9PA |Open All Year | Car Park Close By | Historic Houses

Arundel is in the middle of the town of Arundel in West Sussex. There’s no parking on site so use the pay and display car park opposite the Castle’s entrance.

The gardens at Arundel have recently been developed by the Head Gardener, Martin Duncan and the design duo, Isabel and Julian Bannerman. Look out for the White Garden outside the Fitzalan Chapel,

the Stumpery and the Collector Earl’s Garden.

This garden was made from part of the Walled Garden and was named after Thomas Howard, the 14th Earl of Arundel. Howard was an avid art collector and was patron of Inigo Jones who travelled with Howard to Italy. The Bannermans used Jones’s original drawings for Arundel House to design some of the gateways and pavilions in the garden – although instead of stone, all the buildings are carved from wood.

They also used one of Inigo Jones’s set-designs for Prince Henry’s Masque on New Year’s Day 1611 to create Oberon’s Palace. It looks quite small next to the Cathedral!

The inside of the Palace is lined with mussel shells designed as vases and orange trees while a crown dances on top of the fountain.

A newly planted rose hedge, leads to the Rose Garden. This part of the garden was created from the original Bowling Green and lies below the Castle’s walls.

And in the Spring, there’s the spectacular Tulip Festival.

There’s a cafe and shop on site.

Batemans

Batemans | Near Burwash in East Sussex | TN19 7DS|Open All Year | National Trust

In 1902, Rudyard Kipling bought Batemans. He created the garden and updated the seventeenth century house. Batemans was left to the National Trust by Kipling’s widow in 1940.

The main part of the garden is to the south-east of the house and is enclosed by a yew hedge planted by Kipling. This area was called The Quarterdeck by Kipling.

From here you have a choice. Either walk down the steps to the Lily pond, the Rose Garden and the pleached lime avenue which was planted in 1890s.

Or go through the gap in the hedge and take the Garden Walk which leads to the Wild Garden. Spring flowers are planted in the bed that runs beside the yews and also in the Wild Garden.

 

Cross the River Dudwell to the Mill Orchard; on my visit, restoration work was being carried out on the mill pond.

Walk back through the Meadow

to the Oast houses which lie to the north-west of the house. Here is the Mulberry Garden and on the west side of the single-storey brick building is the tea-room. Access to the Orchard and Vegetable Garden is from the Mulberry Garden.

Kipling’s Kitchen Garden was originally on the site of the Orchard.

Borde Hill

Borde Hill | Near Haywards Heath in West Sussex | RH16 1XP | Open Part of Year | Historic Houses

Situated just north of Haywards Heath in West Sussex, Borde Hill is easily accessible from London and Brighton.

The garden is spread over seventeen acres and is divided into a series of linked garden rooms, each with their own character and style. From the Entrance, walk North to Jay Robin’s Rose Garden,

the Mediterranean Garden and back past the White Garden and The Gardeners’ Retreat Cafe. The Mid-Summer Border leads from here along the bottom of the South Lawn to the West Bank and the Italian Garden. This area was developed by Robert Stephenson Clarke in 1982 – it used to be a tennis court.

The Paradise Walk leads to the Round Dell which was created by Sophie Walker in 2019 and symbolises a boat ‘slicing into the sub-tropical garden’.

Encircle the Old Potting Sheds and along the path to the Jewel Box by Jade Goto. Peer through its windows and enjoy a different perspective on plants.

And if you are visiting in the Spring, look out for the wonderful collection of rhododendrons in the Garden of Allah

and Becky’s Bower. There is access to Warren Wood from here.

Great Dixter

Great Dixter | Near Rye in East Sussex | TN31 6PH | Open Part of Year | Charitable Trust

Unless you are staying in Rye, Great Dixter seems a long way from everywhere. But it’s worth every extra mile you travel – it’s one of my top ten gardens in England.

The gardens were created by the garden writer, Christopher Lloyd in the twentieth century. He modestly wrote: ‘Most of the garden design was by [Sir Edwin] Lutyens; it always seems fluid, never stodgy. Thus, yew hedges are sometimes curved, making a change from straight lines.’

The gardens lie around the house and are full of originality and challenge traditional ideas of colour and form. In the Spring, the Meadow Garden next to the Entrance gate is filled with spring flowers. Turn left by the entrance to the house and enjoy the Peacock, Topiary, High and Orchard Garden. Walk down the steps to the Long Border which runs back towards the house. [It’s also possible to get to the Long Border avoiding steps – ask at the ticket office.]

A wonderful example of Lutyen’s trademark steps

lead to the Exotic Garden,

the Hovel and the Topiary Lawn. Walk back through the Loggia

to the Blue Garden and the Wall Garden. And don’t miss the Barn Garden with the Sunk Garden lying in front of the Great Barn.

The gardens are now under the stewardship of Fergus Garrett and the Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

For the last four years, Fergus has been exploring biodiversity at Great Dixter. We all need to understand how important this is in the area within which we live. It’s not just about leaving the grass verges uncut or planting a wild flower meadow – it’s also about leaving parts of our neighbourhood uncultivated. It’s all in the name – biodiversity. Listen to Fergus on the subject.

There’s a cafe on site as well as a nursery – they also run a mail order service.

Leonardslee

Leonardslee | Near Horsham in West Sussex | RH13 6PP | Open All Year | Cash is Not Accepted

I haven’t been to Leonardslee for many years – before I became a garden historian. They were beautiful then but now they have been completely transformed. Spectacular Autumn colours as well as rhododendrons in the Spring.

Autumn Colours at Leonardslee, Handcross, West Sussex

In the nineteenth century, Sir Edmund Loder developed the gardens and introduced a large collection of wild animals to Leonardslee. After his death, the estate was neglected until it was rescued by his grandson, Giles Loder. But sadly, after Leonardslee was sold in 2010, the gardens were closed to the public.

Yellow, green and red colours of autumn with trees reflected in lake at Leonardslee, Handcross, West Sussex

Autumn at Leonardslee

By chance, South African based entrepreneur Penny Streeter happened to be driving past Leonardslee with her son and saw that the estate was for sale. Falling in love with the place, she bought it. And since that day in July, 2017, Streeter and her team have carried out an extensive restoration programme. The gardens were reopened to the public in April, 2019 – I cannot wait to visit.

The Rock Garden at Leonardslee, Handcross, West Sussex

The ornamental gardens include the Camellia Walk, the Rock Garden, azaleas, rhododendrons, magnolias, lake, the Australia Garden, dwarf conifers and numerous specimen trees.

Postscript: I was not disappointed! I visited last Autumn and the gardens were looking magnificent.

Nymans

Nymans | Near Haywards Heath in West Sussex | RH17 6EB | Open All Year | National Trust

Nymans Gardens is near Haywards Heath on A23 and is signposted from the M23 London to Brighton Road.

The garden is filled with spring flowering shrubs and is divided into different areas. From the entrance, walk past the Temple, through the Pinetum to the Lime Avenue with views over the field to the woods.

Autumn colours in wood

The ruins of the house are on the right

Ruin of house with vegetation growing up

– the National Trust is developing this area – and lead to the main house. From here explore the Sunk Garden and Loggia,

the South African bed, the Heather Garden, the Croquet Lawn and the Winter walk. The Forecourt Garden with its dovecote is in front of the house.

Courtyard garden

From here, there are steps up to the Walled Garden which is divided into quarters and has a central fountain.

Don’t miss the Rose Garden on your way back to the exit via the June border and the top garden.

If you have time, explore the Wild Garden which is on the other side of the road.

Although the house looks as though it was built many years ago, it was only built in 1830s by George Harrington. In 1890, Nymans was bought by Ludwig and Annie Messel. But after Ludwig’s death, the only way his son, Leonard, could persuade his wife to live at Nymans was by transforming the house into a medieval manor house. A fire broke out in 1947 and destroyed much of the house but instead of pulling the carcass down, the Messels decided to incorporate the ruins into the garden.

The gardens are now owned by the National Trust and there is the usual cafe and shop on site.

Parham

Parham | Near Pulborough in West Sussex | RH20 4HS | Limited Opening | Historic Houses

From M25, take A24 by-passing Pulborough to Marches Road in Kingsfold and then follow the signs to Parham.

Steps from the main courtyard in front of the house take you up to a door into the garden.

Parham’s gardens are beautiful with lots of different parts to explore. There’s a wonderful walk through the pleasure grounds, past Veronica’s Maze to the Pleasure pond, the boat house and Cannock House.

Enjoy the views from the Three Arched Summerhouse before descending into the four-acre Walled Garden.

Here you will find herbaceous borders, a rose garden, a herb garden, a vegetable garden and an orchard.

Walk through the Lion Gate and back to the house.

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Parham was given to Robert Palmer. Palmer’s son sold the estate to Thomas Bysshopp whose family owned Parham for over three hundred years. In 1922, the property was bought by Hon. Clive Pearson, second son of Viscount Cowdray. Pearson restored the house and garden.

The Estate is now owned by a Charitable Trust while the house is lived in by the great-grandaughter of Clive Pearson, Lady Emma Barnard.

There’s a cafe and shop at Parham as well as a nursery with over 220 herbaceous perennials for sale. And make sure you visit the house. Simon Jenkins placed Parham in the top twenty of ‘England’s Thousand Best Houses’, and described it as a ‘house of magic’.

Petworth

Petworth | Petworth in West Sussex | GU28 9LR | Open All Year | National Trust

Petworth is in the middle of the village of the same name. It’s on the A272 near Midhurst.

Before wandering around the Park and Lake, it’s well worth popping into the house and seeing some of the paintings – many by JWM Turner – and the wood carvings by Grinling Gibbons.

Wood carving of birds and flowers

Most of the gardens at Petworth are Parkland.

View from hill towards lake

The formal gardens were swept away when Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont asked Lancelot Brown to redesign the park between 1753 and 1765.

View from hill to Petworth house

Brown also designed some of the garden buildings including the Ionic Rotunda. It stands on top of a hill and symbolises the challenging and steep path to fame.

Ionic Rotunda seen from below

The Doric Temple is thought to have been designed by Thomas Wright who visited Petworth around 1744.

Doric Temple in the Park

The estate is owned by the National Trust and has a cafe and shop on site.

Sheffield Park

Sheffield Park | Between Uckfield and Haywards Heath in East Sussex | TN22 3QX | Open All Year | National Trust

I have never visited Sheffield Park but as soon as I do, I will add photos. The garden is famous for its spectacular autumn colours.

 

Below the lawns are the lakes, linked by a waterfall and crossed by the Top Bridge. Plantings around the lake include ornamental trees and rhododendrons with walks through the glades and wooded areas.

Sheffield Park was bought by John Baker Holroyd in 1769. He commissioned James Wyatt to redesign the house and Lancelot Brown to update the parkland and wood. In 1789, further alterations were made by Humphry Repton.

In 1953, the estate was divided in half and the National Trust bought the ornamental gardens.

Postscript: And now I’ve been – it was wonderful!

Autumn Trees at Sheffield Park, East Sussex

Autumn Trees at Sheffield Park, East Sussex

Autumn Trees at Sheffield Park, East Sussex

Standen

Standen | Near East Grinstead in West Sussex | RH19 4NE | Open All Year | National Trust

The car park at Standen is below the house and you walk back up the drive to the Kitchen Garden on your left.

From here take the path between the croquet lawn and the Orchard

to the Rhododendron Dell and Rosery.

Walk towards the house to the main lawn and terrace and then climb up the steps to the Quarry Garden. From here walk along the Top Terrace which has wonderful views over the Sussex countryside. Take the parallel path back through the woods to the Bothy. as;fkljkfs;la

And back to the house.

In 1890, James Beale commissioned Philip Webb to develop one of the farms at Standen into a house. Beale appointed G B Simpson to lay out the garden while Webb also advised on the planting. Beale’s wife Margaret was a friend of their neighbour William Robinson of Gravetye, and often deviated from Webb’s suggestions. Further changes were made to the gardens at the beginning of the twentieth century and in 1972, the last Beale daughter died leaving the house to the National Trust.

And if you have time and love William Morris textiles, make sure you visit the house. There’s also a collection of William De Morgan ceramics.

Wakehurst

Wakehurst | Near Haywards Heath in West Sussex | RH17 6TN | Open All Year | National Trust BUT there are Car Parking Charges

There’s so much to see at Wakehurst but you need to be fit! The gardens lie either side of a valley with Westwood Lake at the far end.

 

When you arrive at Wakehurst, pick up a leaflet which will tell you what to look out for in the garden.

Features include the Black Pond, Water Gardens, Himalayan Glade, Rhododendron Walk, Winter Garden, Walled Garden and Sir Henry Price Garden.

And don’t miss the Millennium Seed Bank. The Seed Bank’s objective is ‘to conserve 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020’. I wonder if they have….

The house was built in 1590 by Sir Edward Culpeper and then passed through several hands until it was bought by Admiral Peyton in 1776. In 1903, Gerald Loder bought Wakehurst from the Duchess of Devonshire and established many of the plant collections, particularly those from Eastern Asia and the southern hemisphere. On Loder’s death, the estate was bought by Sir Henry and Lady Eve Price who continued Loder’s work. They gave Wakehurst to the National Trust.

Wakehurst was given to the National Trust but in 1984, management of the estate was passed to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

West Dean

West Dean | Near Chichester in West Sussex | PO18 0RX | Open All Year | Historic Houses

As you walk from the entrance, the Walled Fruit Garden is on your right as well as the Victorian glasshouses, Cutting Garden and Kitchen Gardens.

Cross the drive to the Sunken Garden

and the magnificent pergola designed by Harold Peto.

Walk past the Orangery and the house to the West Lawn which often has sculpture on display.

Walk through the Spring and Water Gardens crossing from one side to the other of the River Lavant

– and look out for the Fibreglass Tree!

At the far end is the Wild Garden. This area is being redeveloped following principles laid out by William Robinson.

If you have time, walk from the West Lawn, across the River Lavant to St Roche’s Arboretum. There are beautiful tracks through the woods – and it is here that Edward James is buried.

 

In 1891, William Dodge James bought the estate at West Dean. He commissioned Sir Ernest George and Harold Peto to update the Jacobean house. Peto also helped with the layout of the garden and built the Pergola in 1911. The following year, his son Edward inherited the estate. Edward was a patron of several artists including Dali, Magritte, Fini and Carrington and in 1964 established the Edward James Foundation, a charitable educational trust.

West Dean College was opened in 1971 and runs several art and conservation courses.

Woolbeding

Woolbeding | Near Midhurst in West Sussex |GU29 9RR | Limited Opening | National Trust | Must be booked in advance

Woolbeding is one of Sussex’s best-kept secrets. This isn’t a garden you can visit on the spur of the moment – everything must be planned in advance. But it’s so worth it. Book your tickets via the National Trust’s website. There’s no parking at the house, so you meet the National Trust minibus at a car park in Midhurst and they take you to the gardens. Just remember to find out the leaving times of the minibus for the way back!

The Minibus drops you at the gate of the Entrance Garden.

This was originally part of the farmyard and was completely transformed by Julian and Isabel Bannerman. It’s now a peaceful Mediterranean garden with formal pools, pots and olive trees. It’s also called Mary’s Garden after the wife of a former Head Gardener. From here, walk through the shop to the main garden. The house lies in front of you with the water fountain by William Pye.

Simon Sainsbury and Stewart Grimshaw commisioned Lanning Roper to create the formal gardens in the 1980s. The collection of garden rooms are connected but are very different from one another. There’s the Fountain Garden, the Vegetable Garden, the Orangery designed by Philip Jebb, the Swimming Pool, the Well Garden, the Herb Garden and the New Greenhouse made from wood.

Don’t miss the Terrace Garden and the Summer House on your way to the Hornbeam Tunnel, the Tulip Folly and the Long Walk.

Working with Stewart Grimshaw, the Bannermans created in 1990s a ‘wooded pleasure garden’. Arriving at the ruined abbey,

walk beside the lake and the Chinese Bridge

Yellow chinese bridge over the lake

to the kingdom of the River God.

Walk past the magnificient Gothic Summer House by Philip Jebb

to the Bird Hide, the Four Seasons, the Stumpery and back the other side of the lake to the Hermit’s Hut. From here, walk across the field to the Orchid House and the Armillary Sphere and All Hallows Church.

The gardens at Woolbeding continue to be developed. Plans have been approved to build a spectacular glasshouse. This will contain subtropical plant species from the ancient Silk Route.

Little remains of the Elizabethan house which was rebuilt between 1711 and 1760 by Sir Richard Mill. In 1791, the house was sold to Lord Robert Spencer, third son of the third Duke of Marlborough. Lord Robert made several changes to the house and redesigned the gardens; he lived at Woolbeding until his death in 1831.

The estate was given to the National Trust in 1958. In 1973, Woolbeding was leased to the late Simon Sainsbury and his partner Stewart Grimshaw. Stewart still lives in the house at weekends.

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