Nymans Gardens- Jewel of Sussex

/, Blog/Nymans Gardens- Jewel of Sussex

Joe Whelan strides though Nyman’s gardens. He suddenly stoops to pick up a piece of paper from the side of a path. This is the dedication of Nyman’s Head Gardener: Attention to detail, every inch of the estate given thoughtful attention and a friendly efficiency.
“Being a Head Gardener is no longer just being in the garden: it is about managing the staff, strategic planning, funding proposals and dealing with 350,000 visitors a year!”
It is a lament for not having enough time with his hands in the soil, but Joe also has an obvious keen interest in educating people about Nyman’s extensive plant collections.

We start our tour at the side of the wildflower meadow which has a triple SSSI rating with over 30 species of wildflowers living there. “ We lost nearly 500 trees in the storms of ’87 and though there were some rare and wonderful trees that are gone, it did have the benefit of opening up the garden. We can plant a lot more species now than when it was more of a woodland garden. Along here, we are resowing the area with more meadow flowers to link up the whole garden with natural corridors.”

We pass a series of bamboo canes upright in the ground. “ We are going to plant Glyptostrobus pensilis and Thuja kariensis here which are both endangered in the wild.” We look over the meadow at Bill and Ben, two twin Giant Redwoods towering over the Pinetum which survived the ’87 storm.

We move onto the lime tree avenue which Joe says is on the way out as they are old and may only last 20 more years. They give way to a magnificent view of the Downs.
“I’ll see if I can radio Nick for you”. Nick is the assistant Head Gardener and has been working on a new project for years. Called The Garden in the Ruins, Nick and the Trust have taken the Great Hall and turned it into a living artistic museum of many of the variations of plants named after Nyman’s gardens over the years. Joe gets his keys out and unlocks the main door- it is not opened to the public until…….. We enter into a grand space of sandstone and brick walls, without windows or a roof.

“This mansion was built in the 30’s by the Messel family as a homage to Medieval mansions but burnt down just 20 years later. “ The whole space is to divided by Corten steel panels lazer cut with some of the main motifs of Nymans- the Shuttlecock Fern and the Lebanese Cedar. Nick goes onto explain: “ We have the Royal Fern in pots here that have come from the original ferns planted at Nymans, and that Camellia is
Camellia Leonard Messel. I also want to play sound recordings that accompanied Oliver Messi’s set designs for the Royal Ballet from the 30’s-50’s.”

We leave this powerful, surreal space and Joe explains that he has been Head Gardener for 4 years, having grown up in Ireland and trained in Dublin’s National Botanic Gardens. “I manage 11 full-time gardeners and 25 volunteers. One of our volunteers worked here professionally for 52 years! It is great to draw on their knowledge of the place.”

We make our way to the walled garden, that protects a special Chilean collection of plants. Great Magnolias tower over the planting. Even Magnolia stellata, normally a small, slow-growing shrub in domestic gardens, is a vast 10 metres high. Though they will have finished flowering by the middle of April, Rhododendrons and Azaleas will come into their own, as well as Japanese Acers.

We come to a great flowering white Cherry tree and Joe speaks in a reverent tone of voice. “ This is Prunus Thai-Haku (Great White). This thousands of year old cultivar went extinct in Japan until it was discovered in a garden in Sussex by Collingwood Ingram as the only remaining tree of its kind. It was able to be propagated and now is thriving back in it’s homeland!”
As we finish our walk, having traversed only a tiny fraction of the 35 acres of garden and wild garden, not to mention the 300 areas of woodland, Joe sums up the importance of the garden.

“We are a true heritage asset, with over 40 champion trees and rare trees that are endangered in the wild. We also want to be dynamic and plant over 4000 plants each year in the borders. We are always experimenting with varieties and combinations just like the Edwardians did.”
The variety, age and preciousness of the plant collection here is impressive as are the way the garden is laid out, with different atmospheres created in each of the areas. Well worth a visit!


What to do in May

There is an old gardener’s adage that ‘ one looses the gardens in May’.
There is so much to do.
Annual flowers and other frost sensitive plants like vegetable plugs- tomatoes, runner beans, peppers, aubergines and chillies – can be bought and planted now if you didn’t have the opportunity to grow them indoors this year.
Feed lawns
Water any new plants and fertilise and water pot plants
If Pennstemons show lots of new basal growth prune them back to the fresh green shoots
Thin out the clematises that have already flowered this year.
Hoe weeks to save you having to get on your hands and knees – little and often

Where to visit in May

A visit to Leonardslee gardens should be number one on your list. You may remember that I featured this Garden in March. It is now open to the public and will be at its peak of beauty!
Where to visit
Nyman’s of course!
Nymans, Handcross, Haywards Heath RH17 6EB. 10.am to 5pm every day

By |2024-01-27T13:25:36+00:00January 27th, 2024|Articles, Blog|Comments Off on Nymans Gardens- Jewel of Sussex

About the Author:

In 2006 I formed Glorious Gardens, gathering together skilled practitioners to offer not just design but implementation of these designs and maintenance packages where we could look after the gardens once we had created them. Throughout my career I have designed gardens to inspire people with the heart aching beauty of nature, with shapes, colours, moods and proportions to pleasure the body and calm and delight the mind. I am also an artist who works with colour and abstract shapes and I bring this sensitivity to the 4 dimensions of a garden. I am very good at listening to clients and I’m able to draw out the essence of what a client wants for their outdoor space.