When I left Sarah and Jeremy Bray, owners of The High Beeches Woodland and Watergardens, I had the feeling I was waving goodbye to two Ents, trees from Lord of the Rings that can talk and move about. Such is their dedication to the spirit of the land they inherited from Sarah’s parents in the early 90’s.
They showed me around the grounds and their enthusiasm was childlike and fresh. Given that Sarah has spent most of her life here, its impressive that her intense enthusiasm for High Beeches hasn’t waned.
“My parents, Anne and Edward Boscawen, met Colonel Giles Loder family in the 60’s, and in 1966, when he died, various parts of the estate were sold off, my parents buying High Beeches. It came without a house, but instead had a magnificent collection of trees that Colonel Loder had built up in the first half of the 20th Century. Among Col Loder’s cousins with whom he exchanged plants, were Lord Wakehurst of Wakehurst Place and Edmund Loder of Leonardslee.
She pointed to a grassy bank “Look, Narcissus cyclamineus is out all ready! Oh I do hope late frosts won’t get the Magnolia flowers this year.”
“When we came back here, and my parents moved to the Garden House, we immediately started sourcing and adding to the collection. And then a year after our official opening to the public, the 1987 storms hit us!”. They both shudder and recount stories of buying chain saws, gathering vast piles of fallen timber, remembering the loss of great trees. My mother’s force of will got us through that time. She was so dedicated to this place.”
As we walk past a small valley, that smooths its way through a grove of trees, Jeremy talks about the unexpected benefits of lockdown. “I have commuted into London most of my working life, but lockdown enabled me to slow down and even start to learn the names of our collections here. We have ambitions to create a proper database of our whole collection.”
We walk along a series of streams, miniature waterfalls and ponds. “Yes”, says Sarah, looking over a particular large and deep pond, “ This water is, as so often, the Spirit of the Place. This was my father’s life work and now ours. We run the place on a shoestring and I wish I had more time for propagating rare species and hunting in nurseries for rare plants”
She takes me through the inventory of High Beeches.
“ We have some giant oaks of course, though the beech trees have now mostly disappeared over the years. Our gardens are especially good in April and May with all the Rhododendrons flowering, and in the Autumn with the Acers”.
We pass Rhododendron arboreum, which looks like a hundred magic tricks, with scarlet handkerchiefs of blossom ready to explode from dark green fingers. There is a rare Quercus myrsinifolia, a cut leaf Beech, an Acer dcvidii ‘Rosalie!” We come to an extraordinary circle of 6-7 Giant Redwoods, and I suddenly feel like a gnome in the dark quiet of the space.
Sometimes High Beeches feels like an odd assortment of botanical wonders, sometimes the open and flowing grounds of an estate, sometimes a well cared for collection of personalities, attractively situated on both a slope and rolling hills.
“We have 27 acres here, and a woodland meadow that has been uncultivated for over 100 years, which is very rare in Sussex and, oh look, the primroses are coming out! It you come back soon you will see in this shady valley the only naturalised colony of Gentians in the UK”
Are they worried about the future? “Yes. High Beeches struggles to support itself and the tearooms are mainly supported by Volunteers, but our three daughters, who grew up running about here, are now part of the Management Committee and we have had a Conservation Trust in place for decades. We see ourselves as custodians of this place.”
High Beeches is open on the 1st April, from 1pm to 5pm every day except Wednesday and if you want a more intimate experience with acid loving trees and shrubs, High Beeches is a garden that will tick both the boxes of the horticulturist and the stroller through nature.
High Beeches Gardens, High Beeches Ln, Handcross, Haywards Heath RH17 6HQ
Where to visit this April
High Beeches of course!
What to do in your garden this April
Start hoeing any bare areas of earth before the weeds take hold – if you do this once a week each week you will be weed free all year
Sow sow sow. A lot of your summer vegetables can be sown directly into the ground now
Mulch your beds with compost and bark chips to seal in the moisture from winter and prevent growth of new weed seeds
Feed all your shrubs and roses with a handful of bonemeal dug about an inch deep around the base of each plant.
Feed iron loving plants that are grown in pots with some iron fertilizer Not too late to give Dogwood and Willow and big cut back
You can apply both Moss Kill and Broadleaf weed killer to your lawns –wait a coupe of weeks then vigorously rake out all the dead thatch. You can also reseed the lawn where there are obvious patches
You can sow annuals indoors or in your greenhouse – rather than that trip to the supermarket you could try growing Marigolds and Lobelia in trays