Sussex has a wealth of beautiful gardens. Leigh Clapp selects the best to visit, listed in alphabetical order, with a focus on eco-friendly ideas to inspire

Words and Photos by Leigh Clapp

Soak up the sustainable atmosphere in one of our county’s beautiful gardens as the weather hots up. As well as admiring the very elegant view, there are plenty of planet-friendly ideas to look for on your visits that you can carry out back home in your own garden.

Great British Life: 14.Attracting pollinators is important so choose lots of open faced flowers such as echinacea14.Attracting pollinators is important so choose lots of open faced flowers such as echinacea (Image: Leigh Clapp)

From discovering the right plant right time to working with and not against nature, increasing bio-diversity, water-wise methods, compost recipes, organic practices, plants for pollinators, encouraging wildlife, growing your own food and flowers, saving resources, recycling and upcycling, and where to find local eco materials, we can all benefit from treading gently on the environment with sustainable strategies.

1. 4 Ben’s Acre

Great British Life: 01 An eclectic grouping at 4 Ben's Acre01 An eclectic grouping at 4 Ben's Acre (Image: Leigh Clapp)

This small town garden is packed with plants that thrive in the different micro-climate areas. Abundant, billowing plants are accented with formal touches of trimmed topiary and also an eclectic collection of upcycled objects, all set in artistic colour combinations, creating an array of vignettes to enjoy. Every area is considered, with steps and terraces allowing level areas, some sunny, others shaded, and you can enjoy a relaxing cuppa in one of the many seating spots incorporated into the garden.

Opening times

4 Ben’s Acre, Horsham, RH13 6LW

Opens through the National Garden Scheme

By arrangement June to August for groups 12 to 30

Home-made teas included

£9, chd free

2. Borde Hill Garden

One of the country’s most beautiful gardens with living garden rooms of different themes, including a stately Italian garden, woodland, a rather magical dell, herbaceous borders and a spectacular rose garden with David Austin varieties accompanied by atmospheric planting. Botanically rich across 17 acres of gardens, created over many years, there are wonderful mature trees and shrubs, along with lovely companion planting ideas, all set within a classic English garden.

Opening times

Borde Hill, Haywards Heath, RH16 1XP

Open to end Oct

£10.50, chd under 3 free

See website for details and events

3. Bradness Gallery

Great British Life: Many gardens offer delicious homemade cakes for a relaxing tea breakMany gardens offer delicious homemade cakes for a relaxing tea break (Image: Leigh Clapp)

A wildlife-friendly garden greets you here. Set within rolling farmland this tranquil and bountiful garden, home to a pair of artists, surrounds a timber-framed farmhouse and consists of two large ponds, a stream, naturalistic planting, mature trees, flowering shrubs, herbaceous borders and wildflowers. No chemicals are used and much of the palette is selected for scent and to attract wildlife. Vegetables, herbs and cut flowers in raised beds, a compost bin, and wild garden planting, complete this sustainable haven.

Opening times

Bradness Gallery, Barcombe, BN8 5EB

NGS: Sat 4 June (1-5)

£5, chd free, home-made teas

4. Butlers Farmhouse

Great British Life: 08.Creative repurposing at Butlers Farmhouse08.Creative repurposing at Butlers Farmhouse (Image: Butlers Farmhouse)

A touch quirky, delightfully inventive, with both the expected and the more unexpected country garden planting schemes, such as a poison garden, complete with labelled plants that you may not have known were poisonous, a secret jungle garden and Cornish-inspired seaside corners by the pool.

Great British Life: 08.A seaside corner at Butlers Farmhouse08.A seaside corner at Butlers Farmhouse (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Upcycled containers and decorative pieces add further interest, and a wildflower meadow blends into the views to the South Downs beyond. Home to the NGS East and Mid Sussex county organiser, Irene Eltringham-Willson and musician husband Peter, there are plants for sale, picnics welcome in June and August and live jazz in August.

Opening times

Butlers Farmhouse, Herstmonceux, BN27 1QH

NGS: Tues 14, Wed 15 June, Sat 20, Sun 21 Aug (2-5)

Adm £5 June, £6 Aug, chd free, home-made teas, refreshments

Visits also by arrangement to Oct

5. 47 Denmans Lane

Great British Life: 09.The golden meadow at 47 Denmans09.The golden meadow at 47 Denmans (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Planted for year-round interest with ornamental and edible plants, on regularly enriched clay soil, this one-acre garden has a range of areas, including a wildlife pond, a meadow golden with Californian poppies in summer, herbaceous borders, a solar dome, cutting garden, an exotic bed and rose garden. Propagated plants add to the well-stocked beds and plans continue to evolve, such as adding more trees and shrubs to the landscape.

Opening times

47 Denmans Lane, Lindfield, RH16 2JN

NGS: Mondays 2, 16 May (10-5) Adm £5, chd free, home-made teas

29 Aug (1-5),

£6, chd free, combined admission with Lindfield Jungle

Visits also by arrangement to September for groups 5+, £8, chd free

6. Driftwood

Great British Life: 10.Expect the unexpected at Driftwood10.Expect the unexpected at Driftwood (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Brimming with healthy plants, suited to the coastal environment, an eclectic assortment of found objects, from lobster pots to carousel horses, plus an array of seasonal containers, awaits to be discovered up the garden path. Colourful, innovative and making use of every inch of space, no lawn or exposed soil, creative ideas, budget-conscious, the ever-enthusiastic owner Geoff Stonebanks, plus scrumptious home-made teas, makes this a popular garden for return visitors.

Opening times

Driftwood, Bishopstone, Seaford, BN25 2RS

NGS: Open by arrangement June-July for groups of up to 14

£6, chd free, discuss catering options upon booking

7. Fairlight Hall

Overlooking the English Channel, the large estate gardens are set in 90 acres of grounds and include a range of areas, from long borders to exotics in the glasshouses. Gardened organically and as nature friendly as possible, led by head gardener John Myers, who trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and is a temperate and tropical specialist, there are both ornamental and productive plants to admire. A highlight is the walled garden with its amphitheatre, pond, and raised beds forming the kitchen garden. John researches new plants to ensure there are many different plants that have different uses to different wildlife, for example increasing night scented flowers which will feed moths as their numbers have been declining, along with adding habitats, including nesting boxes and log piles.

Opening times

Fairlight Hall, Fairlight, Hastings, TN35 5DR

Open day 28th August – Friends of Conquest Hospital fete and Fairlight Hall Plant Fair with plant stalls and tables for different horticultural societies

See website for details

8. Five Oaks Cottage

Aptly described as a ‘delicate jungle’, this atmospheric organic garden, designed to encourage maximum wildlife, is home to Jean and Steve Jackman, founders of The Floral Fringe Wildlife Fair. Artist and plantswoman Jean has created the cottage style abundance, while Steve has filled the garden with his handmade metal work, including gates, supports and decorative detailing. Self-seeding is encouraged, butterflies hover above a knapweed meadow, wildflowers mingle in borders, and there is an organic vegetable garden and chickens.

Opening times

Five Oaks Cottage, Petworth, RH20 1HD

NGS: Fri 22, Sat 23, Sun 24 July; Fri 9, Sat 10, Sun 11 Sept (10-4)

£5, chd free

9. Great Dixter

This iconic garden continues to be at the forefront of garden design and practices. A green ethos runs through the estate, from the bio-diverse planting to the nursery and café, with an aim to be as environmentally sustainable as possible. Areas to explore include the prairie, wildflower meadows, an orchard, the vegetable gardens, herbaceous borders and the exotic garden. Although an intensively gardened style it works with nature, merging the cultivated with the natural, has a comfortable feel, organic waste and compost is used to feed the plants, minimal chemicals are used, the majority of plants are grown on site, and watering is from their own borehole.

Opening times

Great Dixter House and Garden, Northiam, TN31 6PH

Tues-Sun and BHM (gardens 11-5)

Gardens only £13, with house £14.50, chd £4/£4.50

10. Hollymount

A newly evolving garden laid out by award-winning garden designers Acres Wild, set on a sloping site with a stream, wildlife ponds, waterfalls, a great variety of trees and shrubs, terraced wildflower meadows, a shepherd’s hut, greenhouses, kitchen garden and even a composting loo. Other buildings dotted in the landscape include stables and a summerhouse and there is also a lovely stone bridge, a rill and lots of unusual chickens.

Opening times

Hollymount, High Hurstwood, TN22 4AE

NGS: Sat 21, Sun 22 May; Sat 11, Sun 12 June; Sat 16, Sun17 July (11-5)

£7, chd free, home-made teas

11. Malthouse Farm

Here you will find a country garden with extra touches, such as a birch maze and willow tunnel, wildflowers in the orchard, a wildlife pond, grass walks and a small mound, combining the traditional with adventurous planting combinations and ideas. Spread over five acres with distant borrowed views to the South Downs, there is a series of garden rooms – from topiary to borders and a kitchen garden.

Opening times

Malthouse Farm, Streat, BN6 8SA

NGS: Sun 21, Wed 24 Aug (2-5.30)

£6, chd free, home-made teas

Visits also by arrangement Apr-Sept groups 10 - 30

12. Mayfield Gardens

Seven gardens open together, all within walking distance of the village centre. At Hoopers Farm the resident bees are catered for with a joyous mix of bee-friendly planting in beds and borders, and the organic vegetable plot is fuelled by their donkey in the meadow and lashings of comfrey tea. Wildflower meadows also feature at The Oast and Mulberry, while all the gardens offer a variety of planting ideas in varying sized gardens.

Opening times

Mayfield Gardens, Mayfield, TN20 6AB

NGS: Sat 11 June (11-5)

Combined adm £7, chd free

Home-made teas at Hoopers Farm and The Oast

13. Merriments

Great British Life: 25.Textural diverse planting at Merriments offers lots of ideas in every season25.Textural diverse planting at Merriments offers lots of ideas in every season (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Four-acre display garden adjacent to popular garden centre. Imaginative plantings with colourful combinations ensure eye-catching displays from spring to autumn will give you lots of ideas to creat diversity in different micro-climates. Deep, sweeping borders edge verdant lawns, a striking Oriental bridge spans two ponds, a scree garden offers ideas for dry areas, wildflowers carpets the ground under a stand of silver birch and there is also a grass garden with jewel-like highlights of vibrant perennials.

Opening times

Merriments, Hurst Green, TN19 7RA

Open daily

£9, chd free

14. Michelham Priory

Great British Life: Ancient Michelham PrioryAncient Michelham Priory (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Nestled in the Cuckmere Valley, this 13-acre Scheduled Ancient Monument and Site of Nature Conservation Interest, with Grade 1 and 2* listed buildings, a moat that is the longest continuous medieval moat in the UK, with both formal and wild gardens, is a delight to explore. Giving you both a glimpse to the past with two medieval style gardens, the Cloister Garden and the Physic Garden, where plants had holistic uses, and a traditional kitchen garden with companion planting, blended with up-to-date techniques, makes this a great educational resource. Some borders have been re-planted more exuberantly, areas renovated, a wildflower meadow sown, mature shrubs re-shaped, and the water garden refurbished with an aim to establish a national collection of water irises.

Opening times

Michelham Priory, Upper Dicker, BN27 3QS

Open daily, House and Garden £11

For full details see website

Garden volunteers always welcome

15. 1 Pest Cottage

An architect’s studio garden on the edge of woodland, designed to support wildlife and be bio-diverse within a series of spaces, expanding the living rooms of the small cottage. The ¾ acre sloping, sandy site is gardened lightly, merging into the environment, with naturalistic planting, such as massed ferns, erigeron creeping through paving, self-seeded foxgloves and softly edged paths. The hard landscaping is also in harmony with reclaimed brick paths, rustic railway sleepers and up-cycled containers from salvaged items.

Opening times

1 Pest Cottage, Midhurst, GU29 9LF

NGS: Fri 10 (2-7), Sun 12 June (2-6)

£4, chd free

16. Nymans

Great British Life: 33.A lovely grove and underplanting at Nymans33.A lovely grove and underplanting at Nymans (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Every season is wonderful at Nymans, a National Trust property near Handcross, with highlights from bulbs and blossom in spring, through summer borders ablaze with colour, to autumnal foliage hues and the bare structural beauty of mature trees in winter. The garden was started by Ludwig Messel in 1890, was then looked after by his family and become a National Trust property in 1953. A collector’s garden but also with designed areas, and a backdrop of wonderful far reaching views. Nymans is one of the most sustainable places in the National Trust, although on a grand scale you can translate the ideas to your own garden.

Opening times

Nymans, Handcross, RH17 6EB

Open daily, £15, chd £7.50, free for NT members

17. Parham House and Garden

The lockdowns gave the opportunity to re-plant many of the borders at these historic gardens, which stretch out from the Elizabethan house. The impact of climate change, especially with watering requirements, and using sustainable practices have been taken carefully into account to continue the beauty and timeless atmosphere of this Sussex gem, to benefit both the family and visitors. Being able to see the horticultural renovation and how the planting is maturing is exciting, while some areas will be familiar, such as the glorious greenhouse with its neat rows of potted tender plants, the interlocking rooms and the productive beds.

Opening times

Parham House & Gardens, Pulborough, RH20 4HS

To 9 October, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sun and BHM (12-5)

Garden £10, House and Garden £14, chd £5/£7.50

Please check website before you travel

18. Pashley Manor

These elegant, English gardens are a favourite for many return visitors, for both the horticultural variety in the connecting garden rooms and the delicious fare at the café which is sourced locally or comes straight from the decorative potager. Eco ideas here include companion planting with the vegetables, wildflowers near the bee hives, pollinator-friendly planting with the many colourful flower beds, peat-free compost, propagating plants, re-using pots and seed trays, composting and mulching and the chain of ponds which attract an array of wildlife.

Opening times

Pashley Manor, Ticehurst, TN5 7HE

Tues to Sat, BHM and special event days until end Sept (11-5)

Events incl. – Rose week, Kitchen Garden Week, Dahlia Days

£13, chd £6

19. Perch Hill

Great British Life: 39.Sarah Raven trials plants at Perch Hill39.Sarah Raven trials plants at Perch Hill (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Home to the renowned Sarah Raven and her family, as well as the centre of her business, where courses are held, the garden billows with the plants that feature in her catalogues. Trials and experiments hone the selection as a living laboratory, organic methods are used, colours are orchestrated with care and attention, and there’s always something new to discover.

Opening times

Sarah Raven’s Garden and Cookery School

Perch Hill Farm, Brightling, TN32 5HP

Open days, pre-booking only

9, 10, 16, 17 June; 7, 8, 14, 15 July; 11, 12, 18, 19 Aug; 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16 Sept

From £15. See website for full details

20. Sandhill Farm House

Home of of author and Principal of The English Gardening School, Rosemary Alexander, the garden is a series of masterfully planted areas within a framework of clipped form. Rosemary’s aim of combining the practical with the romantic is beautifully realized in this organic, environmentally-friendly garden. From the front garden with its tranquil woodland, a Mediterranean-style terrace and a more formal white garden to the twin borders, a decorative potager and a red themed bed in the rear garden, there are ideas to inspire at every turn.

Opening times

Sandhill Farm House, Rogate, GU31 5HU


NGS: Sat 11, Sun 12 June (2-5)

£6, chd free, home-made teas

Visits also by arrangement April to September groups 10 to 30

21. Sussex Prairie Garden

Great British Life: Meadows are a vital habitat for wildlifeMeadows are a vital habitat for wildlife (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Naturalistic waves of ornamental grasses and perennials, which has been beautifully described as ‘a living tableau’, characterize the landscape with its broad palette that has around 60,000 plants and 1,600 different varieties, set over six acres, making it Britain’s largest naturalistic garden. The borders also serve the purpose of a living catalogue for Paul and Pauline McBride’s garden design business and stock plants for their farm nursery. This type of planting offers diverse opportunities for wildlife due to the nectar and pollen, as well as sheltered habitats.

Opening times

Sussex Prairies garden, Henfield, BN5 9AT

5 days a week, closed Mon and Tues apart from BHM

1 June – 16 Oct (1-5)

RHS Partner garden

£10, chd £5

For NGS: Sun 11 Sept (1-5)

22. Sussex Wildlife Trust Garden

An eco-friendly garden at Woods Mill nature reserve is a great place to visit for ideas as it is set up as a living classroom. Native species mingle with garden favourites with an emphasis on pollinator-friendly choices. A mini-meadow hums with life, there’s a small vegetable plot, log piles for mini beasts, a pond for amphibians and hedging for the birds. Drought-resistant plants form a green roof on the eco-hut, while water butts catch rainwater and solar panels powers electricity in the hut.

Opening times

Wood Mills Nature Reserve, Henfield, BN5 9SD

See website for details as hours may differ

23. Tuppenny Barn

Established in 2005, the land around the barn is now a thriving organic smallholding charity used as an outdoor classroom to teach children and the wider community about the environment, sustainability and how to grow and cook healthy food. Along with a wildlife pond, beehives and bug hotels, there are heritage fruit varieties in the orchard, herbs, cut flower gardens, raised veg beds, fruit cages, two solar polytunnels, as well as willow arches and wind breaks.

Opening times

Tuppenny Barn, Southbourne, PO10 8EZ

Open by arrangement year round for groups up to 25

£6, chd free, refreshments

24. Wakehurst

Kew’s country garden is at the forefront of environmentally responsible practices, and on a journey toward true sustainability, understanding the urgent action needed to protect the world’s biodiversity. Eco-friendly practices include all compostable waste being transformed through an aerobic waste digester as soil improver, solar panels powering the vitally important seed bank, the world’s largest seed conservation project, as well as responsibly gardening 200 hectares of ornamental gardens, woodlands and a nature reserve making this one of the most bio diverse places on the planet.

Opening times

Wakehurst, Haywards Heath, RH17 6TN

Open daily (10-6)

£14.95, chd free, NT members free

25. West Dean

Great British Life: 44.West Dean's historic kitchen garden44.West Dean's historic kitchen garden (Image: Leigh Clapp)

Known for its horticultural excellence, with 35 acres that include a 300 ft pergola designed by Harold Peto, mixed borders, rustic summerhouses, spring and water gardens, a sunken garden, meadow and naturalistic planting melding into the surrounding farmland, and an absolute highlight, the fabulous Victorian walled kitchen garden with decorative rows of produce, fruit trees and 13 glasshouses with tender exotics. The importance of being environmentally sustainable guides the continuing evolution of the gardens. You may be inspired to enrol in a course at the college and learn more about organic techniques or encouraging wildlife, or time your visit with one of the special events held through the year.

Opening times

West Dean Gardens, West Dean, PO18 0RX

Daily, summer – to October 31 (10.30-5)

winter Nov- Feb (10.30-4) £5, £2.50

£12 summer, £7.50 winter