Wakehurst Botanic Garden – Sussex, England July 2019

by Emma Bumpus on July 21, 2019

Careertraveller travels south to Sussex for a historical and wild woodland experience that bursts with colour, beauty and cutting edge science.

Just a 45-minute train journey from London Victoria to Haywards Heath railway station and a 6-mile bus/taxi ride transports us to the botanical plant paradise called Wakehurst. Greeted by a majestic Grade 1 listed Elizabethan Mansion we enter an estate of flora spread over 500 acres worth of stunning Grade II* listed heritage garden, under lease from the National Trust and managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

We head for Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, whose large Glass House structure banks seeds from worldwide plant species that are at risk of extinction and useful for society. We learn how Kew and the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) is making a difference around the world by preserving and conserving seeds which could potentially provide food and medicine to future generations across the continents. Dried and stored at -20 in laboratory storage vaults is a display of the pioneering science and technology behind Wakehurst’s botanical horticulture and nature conservation research and target of storing seeds from 25% of the world’s most bankable plants by 2020!

Stories of plants in crisis to those with vegetal remedies reveals Kew’s Surviving or Thriving exhibition on plants and us with an interactive showcase of objects covering topics such as climate change and medicine. Engaged and educated we step into a an exceptional display of botanical treasure with plant-derived chemicals that fight human disease to a futuristic garden with plants that thrive in a hotter climate and respond well to increasing carbon dioxide.

Excited and challenged by this family friendly hub of biodiversity is an excuse to head for the nearby Seed Café for some well-earned sustenance before joining a free garden tour that starts in the sweeping Chapel Lawn.

Situated in a garden of gardens we take a stroll beneath an array of ancient yew trees that introduce us to Gerald Loder, later known as Lord Wakehurst who purchased Wakehurst in 1903. Our quintessential guide sets the scene for the estate’s changing landscape with a historical context of Loder’s horticultural interests and well-documented plant hunting collections. Bequeathed to the nation in 1963 and managed by Kew in 1965 is our introduction to the tour and we learn that documented plant collections used for scientific research, education and display make Wakehurst a botanic garden.

We become acquainted with the variegated Wedding Cake Tree known as ‘Cornus controversa variegata’ whose tiered branches and creamy white flowers offer an idyllic focal point for the grounds. As the ground floor of Mansion House opens out onto the romantic gardens, it is of no surprise to hear that the botanic garden accommodates open-air theatre, weddings and outdoor events.

Strolling through the stately trees and beautifully manicured lawns and borders in a labyrinth of well signposted pathways is one of Britain’s rarest trees called the Plymouth Pear. With seeds preserved at Wakehurst to reverse the decline of one of Britain’s endangered ‘Pyrus cordata‘, Kew’s commitment to plant health and conservation is reinforced.

Approaching Mansion Pond we enter a fairy-tale location where welcoming ducks, water lilies and encompassing evergreen trees immerse us in peaceful shades of green. Our guide explains the route around the estate is approximately 2.3 miles and for a 45-minute tour we agree on a circuit of seasonal colour to embrace summer at Wakehurst.

Plants grouped geographically add a touch of magic as we journey through the northern and southern hemispheres from Asia and Australasia to Europe, America and Africa. Between the blue and mauve Japanese water irises in the heavenly Iris Dell and exotic hilly Himalayan Glade we enjoy feeling lost amongst the dragonflies in the Water Garden and bees in the Pollination Garden.

Worth a mention are the Maidenhair ‘Gingko biloba’ tree from South East Asia and yellow flowered Hypericum, known as St Johns Wort, bring developments in plant science and traditional herbal medicine to the botanical world of gardening.

Our tour ends at the West Mansion Border where seasonal highlights present a kaleidoscopic row of sun reaching flowers that lead us into the careertraveller favourite Walled Garden. Inside this English cottage garden is a sanctuary of bloom and blossom that beam with colour and wildlife amongst a string of gravel paths dotted with pockets of well-placed benches that radiate peace.

Wakehurst is a treasure chest of beauty and detail bursting with seasonal surprises that leave you wanting more. As we wander Coronation Meadow we revel in a carpet of wildflowers inspired by HRH The Prince of Wales, where seeds scattered by local school children in 2015 boost wildlife and flora. A jewel in the crown!

Further down in Westwood Valley is a verdant feast of trees and shrubs that hint of the Far East alongside Westwood Lake, whose wetland home of flora and fauna and curvaceous boardwalk are a nature lover’s picnic.

Nearby the 150-acre Loder Valley Nature Reserve with 300 plant species is the excuse to revisit Wakehurst in what is justifiably classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the High Weald of Sussex.

Further information:
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

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