Visiting the gardens at Woolbeding is always a bit of a gamble – they’re not open very often (the house is still lived in by Stewart Grimshaw) and you have to buy the tickets in advance. I woke up early on the Friday morning drew the curtains and hooray – the sun was shining! I had wanted to visit Woolbeding for a long time as I used to know Stewart Grimshaw’s partner, Simon Sainsbury, who was one of the shareholders of the antiquarian booksellers where I worked in London.
There’s no parking at the house, so you meet the National Trust minibus at a car park in Midhurst and you are taken there. It all adds to the excitement of your visit – this isn’t a garden to see on the spur of a moment, everything must be planned in advance.
The minibus drops you at the gate and you walk into the Entrance Garden. This was originally part of the farmyard and was completely transformed by Julian and Isabel Bannerman into 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, you walk through the shop to the main garden.
The formal gardens were created by Lanning Roper in 1980s.
The Orangery and Swimming Pool – the building was designed by Philip Jebb in the 1970s
The History of Woolbeding
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 passed through several hands and in 1958, it was given to the National Trust. In 1973, Woolbeding was leased to Simon Sainsbury and his partner Stewart Grimshaw and they commissioned Lanning Roper to create a series of garden rooms with a pavilion and summer house designed by Philip Jebb.
The Long Walk connects the area of garden around the house to the lake and the theatrical part of the garden that was created by the Bannerman’s in 2000 in collaboration with Stewart Grimshaw. The Summer House by Philip Jebb was already here but they several features including the ruins, a Chinese Bridge and the wonderful Rother God made from stone and Whitstable oyster shells.
There’s the Orchard Cafe at Woolbeding as well as a shop selling gifts and plants – but make sure you keep an eye on the time and don’t miss the minibus back to your car
The garden at Woolbeding continues to be developed – plans have been approved to build an amazing glasshouse which will contain subtropical plant species from the ancient Silk Route. To read more about this project, click here