Borde Hill, West Sussex

Posted on Monday, July 4th, 2011

On the hunt for roses, and enjoying a glorious summer day, I trooped off to visit Borde Hill in West Sussex, UK. The gardens surround Borde Hill House, a private residence (not open to the public) which was originally built in 1598. The gardens were established in the early 1900s and are ensconced in 200 acres of woodland where visitors can add to their day with a selection of countryside strolls. The walks take in natural and ‘man made’ woodlands, the latter including a coniferous wood and a broad leaf area which includes elms, hickories and walnuts.

The gardens sprawl to the east and west of the house, separated by the wide expanse of the ‘South Lawn’, which is part of the private residence. The overall feel of the garden is slightly higgledy piggledy, but delightfully so. It’s a garden which invites you to amble around, losing your way while exploring narrow paths and inviting steps, and with plenty of seating so you can pause and take in your new discovery. There are lovely views over the surrounding woodland and farmland, particularly as you walk along Paradise Walk at the base of the South Lawn between the east and west gardens.

From a practical point of view, the main paths offer good access for wheelchairs and buggies and there is a large childrens’ playground (away from the gardens) so the little ones can burn off some energy. There is a cafe and a more upmarket restaurant on site, as well as a small shop. However, the food did seem rather on the pricey side to me, so I passed on lunch. There is some labelling in the garden, probably about half the plants which I wanted to know the names of had a label, so not great but not awful.

Here are a few of the highlights of the garden:

Rose garden

This was the main purpose of my visit, to find a well stocked rose garden to photograph and add to to our plants information. I wasn’t disappointed. Created in 1995 by Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist Robin Williams, the Rose Garden is based upon photographs of the original design from the early 1900s. Framed in box, lavender and catmint, the garden is ablaze with colour and beautifully scented. There is a wonderful selection of roses, from the ubiquitous shrub roses to hanging swags of ramblers and patterns of closely grouped miniature roses. The neat, paved paths make it easy to meander between the displays and get ‘up close and personal’ with 400+ roses in the garden.

Italian garden

Converted from a tennis court in 1982, this very formal garden has a distinctly classical design. The rectangular paving area is centred with a rectangular pond. This is fed by a rill of water leading down a series of steps, emanating from the mouth of a lion. Huge, Italian terracotta pots surround the pool sprout standard bushes and colourful Mediterranean bedding. The garden is surrounded with geometric beds edged in box and planted for summer colour.

Round Dell

While not one of the “main” features of the gardens, the Round Dell, created in an old quarrying site, was my favourite spot. If I’d had a good book with me I could have happily whiled away a hour or so there.

The garden is within a little hollow, at the bottom of which is a pond. The planting is lush and tropical, with Chusan palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) framing the area and gunneras, cannas, gingers and skunk cabbages as part of the sunken display. However, there are no garishly bright colours that one often finds in tropical schemes, which gives the garden a natural feel. At the edge of the pond stands a fabulous bronze statue (“Welcome the new year” by Eve Meynell) of a woman with her arms joyfully thrown up, adding an air of pleasure to the garden.

Old Potting Sheds

Only a small part of the gardens, and tucked away at the far west side, the Old Potting Sheds have been planted up to make a charming feature of the run down buildings. Only the walls and the odd doorway remain of the original sheds, giving the gardeners an opportunity to plant inside as well as outside the structures. This gives it the feel of a secret, overgrown place, but is contrived enough to make it pleasing on the eye. A couple of benches provide give you a chance to rest a while inside the ruins and enjoy the solitude.

Garden of Allah

This part of the garden, cultivated from the parkland in the 1920s, was named the Garden of Allah because of the peace and tranquility found within it. Within the garden small ponds sit under the dappled shade of well established trees, creating a contemplative mood. The calming greenness of the area, soothing water and cool shade of this garden make its name well earned.

The area is a little overgrown but, while the more pernickety gardeners might take exception to this, it does lend a rather relaxing, laisez faire attitude to the garden. After all, if we want to go there for some peace and quiet, it seems a little unfair not to let the plants relax too!

As I visited in the summer I didn’t see the splendour of the Camellia Ring and Azalea Ring to the far east of the garden, and the Old Rhododendron Garden was just green and leafy, but I’m sure these will be worth a return visit in the spring. I’ll pick a sunny day so I can have a morning potter around the garden then take advantage of the woodland walks, perhaps with a picnic to avoid that costly café!