Borde not bored
Saturday 26th February, Borde Hill Garden
This place is a gem! It hadn’t entered my consciousness before despite being a well-known Sussex location open to the public for nearly 60 years, but I am most definitely a convert to this beautiful place now.
First built in 1598, Borde Hill House was occupied by Sir Stephen Borde whose family lived in Cuckfield, West Sussex for generations. However, it wasn’t until 1703 when Walter Gatland purchased a further 200 acres that we start to see the beginning of what there is today. Over a century late, the farm house was purchased by Preston family who added the central portion of the house, before a new Col. Stephenson Robert Clarke who then built the East Wing in 1893. The Garden was opened to the public as a registered charity in 1965 and I’m very glad they were!
We romped through the gardens and woodland for hours, finding hidden areas, spotting the first signs of spring with beautiful burgeoning flowers, as well as playing hide and seek in the may hidden spots along the way. The Italian Garden, and the Garden of Allah were especially great for this.
This garden and woodland development was aided by the Clarke family in the first part of the 20th century, and who were patrons of some of the great plant collectors who went to the Himalayas, China, Tasmania, the Andes and North America. Listed as Grade II* importance by English Heritage on its register of Parks and Gardens, Borde Hill contains the best private collection of champion trees in Britain and one of the most comprehensive collections of trees and shrubs in the world.
You can see this in some impressively and huge trees and bushes you only find abroad. I was so stunned to notice a Sequoia tree usually only found on the Pacific side of America that I found myself hugging it for a more extended period than is dignified!
Although I went home and did some research, finding the fascinating fact that fossil remains of the genus Sequoia from the Jurassic Period (180 to 135 million years ago) have been found in other locations such as Greenland, and the Eurasian continent, suggesting vast forests in multiple places. I’ll wager however that these particular varieties were brought back from collector travels to Borde Hill between 1900-1930.
Whilst the house isn’t open to the public as the owners currently live there, this doesn’t detract from the location itself. We were fortunate to visit on a sunny day in late winter and the surroundings felt almost magical. Silence marked by the sound of birds furiously tweeting, patches of snow drops and violets in bloom, and Warren Wood newly developed in part by leading garden designer Chris Beardshaw who has won many medals through the Royal Horticultural Society.
We spent all afternoon at Borde Hill, though in the summer, with a picnic, you could easily pass a whole day there. There are cafes with refreshments too. We definitely walked our requisite 10,000 steps during the time we were there as there were so many woodland delights to explore (well behaved dogs are welcome), although this didn’t feel like hard work at all. We carried on through to Stephanie’s Glade and walked much of the circuit of the grounds before gratefully munching on homemade cakes at the Gardeners Retreat Café. I can really recommend the sticky ginger cake!
At this time of year when the venue is newly opened for the season it can be a bit on the muddy side, although perhaps not everyone has children prone to falling in muddy puddles on a regular basis. I would recommend taking wellies if you are planning to go further in to the wood, but for a shorter visit to the Rose or Italian Garden, comfortable shoes only would suffice.
For kids, Borde Hill currently has Wilbur’s Wild Welly Walk around the grounds encouraging families to find hidden wellies, pose as animal characters and use their detective skills to solve the trail clues. What however enthused my own child was the adventure playground on the edge of the property, which includes a zip wire which proved very popular. We could in fact have spent most of the afternoon there.
Families are encouraged and you can also book a ‘Wild Camp’ Children’s Party in the Woodland. There are trails and activities during school holidays and Halloween, as well as family theatre and Live Music in the garden. We also love finding the ‘mini beast’ home tucked away in the wood, filled with critters, and called The Grand Bugandpest Hotel.
The majority of the formal Garden is accessible to those with restricted mobility. Gentle slopes with hard surfaces allow wheelchair access. There are also plenty of benches for relaxing and taking in the sights.
A mobility map is available for those who may be disabled, have child buggies or other mobility needs. Wheelchairs available for use (no charge, please telephone to reserve), and Disabled car parking situated in front of the Garden entrance.
This place really is quite lovely and I urge you to visit. It previously won the HHA/Christies Garden of the Year and I can see why. We’ll definitely visit again.
Borde Hill Garden
Borde Hill Lane
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
Tel: +44 (0)1444 450326
Garden, Parkland and Adventure Playground:
19 February – 13 November 2022
10am to 5pm daily (10am-6pm weekends in July and August)
Woodland closed for the winter from Monday 12 September
Last admission one hour before closing