For focus week 1 in November 2010 I went to 3 Parks in California, This week I have chosen 3 National Trust gardens to visit. Wakehurst Place, which is part of Kew and is home to the millennium seed bank, Nymans Gardens, and Standen house all in Sussex.

1. Wakehurst Place

View of Wakehurst Place across the lake

The land that Wakehurst Place now stands on was originally bought by Wiliam de Wakehurst from Philip de Crauele in 1205 (Crawley is the nearest Town, and where I went to school). The mansion and grounds have an interesting history and the main body of the mansion (just part of the original) was built by Edward Culpepper in 1590 of Ardingly Sandstone. The local rock is significant as it is a feature of the high Weald landscape.

High Weald landscape is characterised by rolling hills, deep valleys, fields, hedgerows, heathland and ancient ghyll woodland. Because of it’s very specific topography, much of the land was saved from conversion to agriculture and it’s exposed sandstone rock outcrops support a unique variety of bryophyte flora specifically slender thread moss (Orthodontum gracile) and veilwort (Pallavicinia lyellii).

Tree roots growing over Sandstone outcrop

Tree roots and sandstone outcrop

Ferns on sandstone

Wakehurst Place is also working to restore, and enhance undisturbed grassland which is a species rich habitat specific to High Weald landscape; seeds from Hanging Meadow in the Loder Valley Reserve, along with other donor sites in the High Weald are being used to enhance Bloomers Valley, half of which has been the site of research into the best methods of re-introducing native wildflower species.

Bloomers Valley March 2011

Bloomers Valley in Summer (pic. provided by Iain Parkinson. Wakehurst Place Woodland manager)

Sussex Weald Woodland was traditionally used for Coppicing, which is the action of cutting back Hazel, Alder or Willow to the stool (base) every 7-10 years. The cut stems were used for making fencing, hurdles, baskets and (older wood) for charcoal. This tradition is being continued at Wakehurst in the Loder Valley and Pearcelands Wood.

Charcoal Burner (pic. supplied by Iain Parkinson. Wakehurst Place)

Pearcelands wood, newly Coppiced area

Hurdles made from stems cut from Pearcelands Wood

View across the top of Ardingly Reservoir in the Loder Valley Nature Reserve

Millennium seed bank

The Millennium Seed bank is was opened officially in 2000 by Prince Charles and stores seeds from all of the UK’s native plant species.

2. Nymans Gardens.

Nymans Gardens was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1953. Previously it had belonged to the Messel family and had been owned by them since 1890. This is a garden I used to go to with my mother in the early Spring to see the amazing collection of Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Magnolias. This week ( March 3rd) it was a bit early to see much in bloom, but there were still some beautiful Rhododendrons already out and the Magnolias were in bud,the  Hamamellis were just about over but hellebores were looking good.

Rhododendron sharriffii

Helleborus bloom

Rhododendron galophytum

The House (part of which was burnt down in 1947)


Long red catkins of Alnus rubra

Yellow Rhododendron

Rhododendrons, Snow drops and Daffodils

Giant leaves (30-40cm) of Rhododendron macabeanum

Above, Not a very exciting picture but the leaves of this Rhododendron are amazing and about the length of my fore arm.

3. Standen House

Standen House was built in 1892 by Philip Webb for London Solicitor, James Beale and is one of the best examples of an Arts and Crafts house still surviving. Standen was one of the first private houses to be fitted with electric lights and the electrical system is still in place today; The light fittings are a work of art in themselves, even the bulbs, which are still made by philips especially for the house, are beautiful. The interior was decorated by  William Morris’s company  Morris and Co. many of the rooms have Morris design wallpapers and there are areas of the house where more recent paint is being removed to reveal the original wallpaper underneath.

There are 12 Acres of gardens at Standen with beautiful views over Ashdown Forest. There is a Victorian Quarry garden, Kitchen garden and bamboo garden with a swimming pond. The adjoining Standen wood is managed as a wildlife sanctuary.

Back of the house

View across the orchard to the South Downs

View of Standen House through the Garden

One of the four pleached fruit trees at the entrance to the Kitchen Garden

These are some of the oldest pleached fruit trees I have ever seen.

View of the shady rock garden

At the side of the house there is a shady rock garden. I have included this picture because it shows the exposed sandstone rock that is typical of the area and is ideal for delicate bryophytes. This is a more cultivated garden than the ferny sandstone outcrops at Wakehurst but beautiful all the same.

Daphne in bloom

Daphne can be a tricky plant to grow as it won’t  tolerate wet or heavy soil, this shrub was large and covered in flowers (the scent of the flowers is amazing) and is probably thriving because of the well draining sandstone environment.

Dining room at Standen

Landing at Standen with William Morris wallpaper

It wasn’t possible to get many pictures of the interior of the house as the old electric lighting was very dim. The beautiful fireplace in the dining room (above) was designed by the Architect Philip Webb.

Standen was also one of the first homes to have purpose built servants quarters, this went well with the Socialist philosophy of William Morris who was rebelling against the repressive and hypocritical values of the Victorian age and sought to reform art as well as society.


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