Wakehurst Place, near Ardingly, was built by Sir William Culpeper in the ast decade of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Its picturesque facade with its gabled wings and many windows, is typical of late Elizabethan architecture, when the fortified manor house or castle was giving way, owing to securer times, to more sophisticated building. Sir William chose the site for his new house on rising ground, and the view that his mulhoned windows command is as fair a prospect as any in Sussex.
Wakehurst has been owned by many families, and it is outside the scope of this article to trace the story of the house in detail. Its garden history may be said to begin when the occupants were the Boord family, who restored the house and created much of the garden that we see today. In the ‘90s of the last century the Lady Boord of the moment was a keen gardener, and it was she who laid out the rock garden at Wakchurst which is still such a feature. Many of the shrubs and small trees still growing in this part of the garden she planted herself- and that at a time when few English women took more than a remote interest in gardening and, far from handling a spade themselves, confined their activities to giving complicated instructions to their gardeners.
From the Boords, Wakehurst passed to the Loder family. Loder is a name famous in the gardening world, and it was given to some of the most beautiful of scented, the Loderi strain, which are described in the post on Leonardslee.
Sir Gerald Loder’s speciality, besides rhododendrons, was plants which originated in the Antipodes and in South America, Chile in particular. For this sort of plant, the climate and terrain of Wakehurst provided almost perfect growing conditions, with light woodland, abundant water from lake and streams, and tall forest trees for windbreaks. In due course, Sir Gerald was made Lord Wakehurst, and during his lifetime the garden became one of the sights of Sussex. On his death, the estate passed to Sir Henry Price, and in 1963 the gardens, by way of the National Trust, came under the direction of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, who, for some years, had been looking for a ‘satellite’ garden. Wakehurst Place, with its clean air, moisture, and above all, acid soil, offered vastly better and more varied growing conditions than those at Kew, where, for instance, rhododendrons do not thrive.
Some of the rare plants which the plant connoisseur should look for are the late-floweringeriogynum, which was discovered in Yunnan by George Forrest in 1914; the Chilean Berberidopsis corallina, a scarlet-flowered climber which is at its best in late summer; a Chinese conifer which is seldom seen in Britain, Kcteleeria davidiana, which actually produces its rare cylindrical cones at Wakehurst; and the sub-tropical Japanese evergreen Litsea glauca, with clusters of whitish . One of the most interesting antipodean plants to be seen is the cone-bearing Phyllocladus trichomanoides, once used by the Maoris of New Zealand to produce a bright red dye.
Wakehurst is a garden for almost all seasons. High moments are early spring, when the azaleas are in flower and the air is laden with their scent. In early summer the rock-garden, legacy of Lady Boord’s work eighty years ago, is bright with flower, and saxifrages, sempervivums and helianthemums (good plants for the smallest garden, as well as for the largest) are in their first burst of colour.
It has been written, ‘At a time in our history when the future of any garden the size of Wakehurst must be in doubt, it is reassuring to find such a great garden, the future of which, in the doughty care of Kew, is certainly assured.’
OPEN Daily: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. in winter except Christmas and New Year’s Day, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. in summer.
LOCATION 1 mile north of Ardingly village on B2028 Turners Hill road.