Borde Hill Gardens is a mecca for those interested in beautiful views, rare plants and Champion trees. Colonel Stephenson Clarke, who created the garden from the late 19th Century onwards, sponsored plant hunting trips throughout the world.
The result is a fantastic collection of rare trees, including 65 Champion trees (these are the largest of their particular species in the whole of Britain).
Set in a 383 acres of Grade 2 Heritage listed landscape, the gardens consist of a loosely connected arrangement of ‘rooms’- the Azalea Ring, Italian Gardens, the Rose Garden and perennial borders whilst being more wild on the edges giving way to lakes and open ground.
Harry Baldwin, the fresh faced and energetic Head Gardener, is passionate about how history and horticulture interweave in this space he looks after.
We walk along a row of great Chestnuts which used to be on either side of the drive leading to the mansion, still occupied by the 5th generation of the founding family members.
‘This here is a Japanese Oak, one of only a handful that survived the original seed germination when they were brought back from Japan. I found one of these hiding in a hedge in Kew when I worked there which everyone had forgotten about. They were the last seeds plant collector Richard Oldham sent back from Asia before he died of Dysentry.”
“ And this is a Meliosma beaniana, one of only three in the British Isles that was bought at auction in 1932 and transported by lorry and then horse and cart here from North London.”
Harry showed me a black and white photo of its’ parent tree in China, a photo that is part of an extensive well preserved archive. “It looks like its parent don’t you think? We measure it regularly and the truck expands about 1cm every year!”
I have the feeling I am walking around an art gallery and museum, not just a garden.
We come to a huge magnificent 30m tree just coming into leaf. “ This is a Chinese Tulip tree, a Liriodendron. For years we tried to propagate it and then we noticed a sapling growing up. It did it itself. This one will be one of the 130 grafted or propagated trees we are planning to plant in the gardens to celebrate 130 years of horticulture here”
He points to a Camilia as we wind our way back to the Italian garden. “ This is the double pink flowering Camellia ‘Donation’. It was raised here in the 1930’s and now is sold all over the world!”
Our walk passes boggy ground, great hollows where from sand mining, Ancient woodland and views of lakes. “ We will be making an educational space down near the lake, with an eco-lodge and cafe. I would like to leave behind a legacy of protecting this collection, and we are digitising the whole of the archive”.
We pass a stand of Redwoods, the 3 Magnolia Sisters, and every so often 250 year old oaks which are like the giant backbones of the landscape. We finish at the Rose Garden. Created in the 1990’s after the owner, Mrs Clarke, read, to her surprise, an old 1902 copy of Countylife magazine praising the beauty of Borde Hill Rose Gardens. She decided to recreate this and this quadrant of garden now consists of a colour wheel of over 700 hundred roses, with 150 different David Austin species.
Not normally a fan of sculpture in gardens, you must see the triangular, perspective bending sculpture called Round Dell by garden designer, Sophie Walker. It is perhaps the most thought provoking, unusual visual art installation I have ever seen in a garden.
What to Do in June
Lots to do so stop reading this and get out there!
-but if you are just having a quick tea break read on.
Dead head roses and give them their Summer feed Divide finished bulbs
Water any new plants you have put in this Spring
Pinch out Fuchias to help them flower into bushy sprays
Cut back old geranium foliage as they will grow again
Plant out seed potatoes and tomatoes, the latter in the sunniest place you have
Believe it or not it is still not too late to plant runner beans
Some generous handfuls of manure for your roses.
Keep seeding new rows of salad vegetables
Where to visit in June
Borde Hill of course- just outside Haywards Heath, the Rose garden will be at its best, plus a contemporary art show later in the month.
11th Feb- 31st October 10am-5pm