An Elephant in a NT Garden? – Woolbeding, nr Midhurst.

Until last week I had never heard of Woolbeding Gardens, near  Midhurst in West Sussex. Although owned by the NT since 1958, Woolbeding has been leased since the early 1970s to the late Sir Simon Sainsbury and his partner Stewart Grimshaw, and they created the garden as it is today.  When Sir Sainsbury died in 2006 his Will provided that the Trust opened the garden to the public.  The 26 acres of garden opened for the first time for National Trust visitors in April 2011.

I read that it was a 20th Century garden so on arrival, when met with a modern pond layout, I thought this was setting the theme for the whole garden.

This seemed all the more enforced where on the lawn at the front of the 17th century house there is a tall, stainless steel, water feature. William Pye was commissioned to designed the feature, erected in 2011, to replace an old Cedar tree. The feature represents the cedar tree.

My friend made no bones about the fact he found it jarred with him and he clearly did not like it. However, I found the contrast between the modern and the Norman church behind it appealed to me.

Almost in line with the water feature at the other end of the house, there is a folly, which apparently was erected to take the place of the biggest tulip tree (100 ft high) in Europe which blew down in 1987.  Two very different tastes of two men who together created a beautiful and interesting garden.

As we turned towards the garden, I was struck by the neatness of the well-manicured and colour co-ordinated borders.  Somehow, to me, it was just a little too clinical, personally, I prefer borders that look as though they have been packed with lots of exciting different things, without too much planning. Fortunately, for me anyway, this neat format did not follow through the whole of the garden.

Every time you turn a corner or walk through the hedging you come across something different:-

  • The immaculate herb garden with its trimmed box balls enclosed with yew hedging.
  • The old walled garden which is subdivided into room all with box hedges and spiral topiaries.
  • Even the potager has a topiary in the middle of its circular planting of vegetables.

I particularly admired the Italian Garden, with its four corners of different colour.  Everything ranging from white to pale pinks and lilacs are in one bed, purples and burgundies in another, peaches and ambers in the third and shades of red in the fourth.  A lot of care has clearly been taken to ensure that the flowers are in the right colour spectrum.

Beyond the gardens with fabulous views over the River Rother, which runs through the land, we took the Woodland Walk, passed a field of the most gorgeous black lambs, and down to a “pleasure ground” complete with a ruined abbey, built in recent years, a grotto, a Gothic summer-house and Edyth the Elephant, painted in strawberries.  Apparently this was a present from Stuart to Simon, (it may be the other way around!).  Not what you would expect to see in a National Trust Garden, but this garden is different to say the least.

From my initial impression at the entrance to Woolbeding and the stainless steel water structure, through to the borders cared for to perfection, on to the lovely Italian Garden, and finishing with the lake and the strawberry elephant, there is a lot to take in and I can understand why everyone who has visited said how much they liked it.  “A gem of a garden” was one comment.

Woolbeding Gardens is open to pre booked visitors only.  The garden is open on Thursdays and Fridays. ALL visits must be pre booked on 01730 716304 option 1.  There is NO parking on site or in the locality.  The nearest car park is in Midhurst and a free mini bus service for visitors runs from Midhurst to Woolbeding Gardens.

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  1. How wonderful – you provided me with a walk around inspired surroundings.The italian garden was my favorite until the gothic summerhouse. The strawberry covered elephant adds just the right touch of whimsy.


  2. Magnificent gardens, and I like the fact that around each corner there is something different. The elephant is rather quirky, but fun! On the whole, they are beautiful gardens, and I wouldn’t mind a wander round there myself, or to sit somewhere quiet and just enjoy being there.


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