Gardens to Gables

The Splendor of the Garden: Woolbeding in West Sussex

The allure of spring seems so near!

The allure of spring seems so near!

I am a big believer in the seasons. Winter is cold, snowy, and necessary to kill pests and allow my garden some dormancy. It is also a wonderful time to concoct ambitious and wholly unrealistic plans for the garden, so I accept winter, as I do the other oft-capricious Kentucky seasons. The villainous attitude of winter in the Bluegrass this year, however, has not only cruelly impacted my boxwood, it is starting to eat away at my limited reservoir of patience. Yesterday, I delighted in the bright yellow faces of the crocus by my front sidewalk, only to listen to the weather forecast warning of many more inches of snow, and feel my spirits plummet. Thankfully, I also believe in the imagination, so as rain coats Central Kentucky and we speculate about how the next winter storm will impact the region, I turn my thoughts to summer and the splendors of the landscape at Woolbeding Gardens in England.

 

In the borders at Woolbeding Gardens.

In the borders at Woolbeding Gardens.

Described by some as the best-kept secret in West Sussex, I arrived at Woolbeding early in my adventure known formally as Attingham Summer School 2014 (other monikers for the three weeks won’t be repeated in this venue). Kept busy by lectures and the amazing (if slightly overpowering at times) interiors of country houses, my first impulse on that warm July day was to throw my shoes off, roll in the grass, and dance in the flower borders. I did none of these things, if not to draw attention to Kentucky stereotypes, but because I was much too distracted by the perfect blending of an English summer sky, symmetrical hedges and a profusion of flowers.

The mood of the sky changed quickly, from atmospheric and moody, to serene blue with resplendently fluffy clouds.

The mood of the sky changed quickly, from atmospheric and moody, to serene blue with resplendently fluffy clouds.

In the clamor of post-World War II societal and economic changes, numerous large estates were gifted the National Trust. Woolbeding came into the Trust in 1958 – but without any funding. Because of that, the house and gardens were tenanted out and only taken back by the Trust in the last decade. Sir Simon Stansburg and his partner, Stewart Grimshaw, acquired the lease in 1973, and oversaw the restoration and reinterpretation of the 18th century gardens.

The stone house, originally H-shaped, is not open to the public. It dates back to the 16th century, with numerous building campaigns reshaping its appearance and form into the 19th century.

The stone house, originally H-shaped, is not open to the public. It dates back to the 16th century, with numerous building campaigns reshaping its appearance and form well into the 19th century.

The land, however, is not just a staid recreation of walled gardens and borders. Sir Simon worked with leading designers, including Lanning Roper (shout out to the American) and Julian and Isabel Bannerman (the pair have worked on many projects for Prince Charles). Follies (an essential part of any English garden!) and modern sculpture mark the spot of iconic trees, lost to the vagaries of nature.

It's a giant wine glass! This water feature named "Cedra" was designed by William Pye. It is made from cast, spun and rolled mirror-polished stainless steel. Sadly, the water wasn't working the day of my visit.

It’s a giant wine glass! This water feature named “Cedra” was designed by William Pye. It is made from cast, spun and rolled mirror-polished stainless steel. Sadly, the water wasn’t working the day of my visit.

The old walled garden became a series of rooms, and water – an essential element in the landscape – highlights not only the sinuous undulation of the lawn, but also features like the Gothic summerhouse and small statuary nestled into multi-layered planting schemes. I saw Woolbeding in July, but I know it must be spectacular at all seasons.

The waterfall and Gothic summerhouse.

The waterfall and Gothic summerhouse.

Woolbeding opened to the public for the first time in 40 years in 2011. It will re-open for the 2015 season on April 9, and all tours must be pre-booked. My April will hopefully find jonquils and forsythia blooming under a gentle Kentucky sky, and spring reigning triumphant over us all – until then, I will power through the madness of the winter that won’t end with thoughts of dahlias, tranquil croquet lawns, and sweet-smelling herb gardens.

The swimming pool, a dining gazebo and orangery/pool house were deisgned bny Pilip Jebb. This is where I would happily spend many an afternoon. I may have taken my shoes off and dangled my legs in the water...

The swimming pool, a dining gazebo and orangery/pool house were designed by Philip Jebb. I would happily spend many an afternoon in this spot of paradise. I may have taken my shoes off and dangled my legs in the water…

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2 Thoughts on “The Splendor of the Garden: Woolbeding in West Sussex

  1. Joan MacDowell on March 5, 2015 at 4:58 am said:

    My favorite part of the world, thank you for sharing this lovely property! Although I have been to West Sussex, I was not familiar with this property…your article was a great pick me up for us living in frigid Western Pennsylvania. I think our Spring is far, far away!

    • JR Brother on March 5, 2015 at 8:42 am said:

      Joan – we have 11 inches of snow this morning and counting…summer in England seems so very far away! Thank you for reading!

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