Top 3 gardens to visit in Sussex

Petworth House and Park (photo by Colin Barker)

Petworth House and Park (photo by Colin Barker) - Credit: Archant

Leigh Clapp takes a closer look at some great Sussex gardens to visit this year

Petworth Park, Petworth, GU28 OAE

Strolling the grounds you feel that you are in a totally natural landscape, when actually it was completely man-made by Brown over a series of four commissions through the 1750s. Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont, as with his contemporaries of the time, disliked the formal landscape of ramparts, terraces and parterres that he had inherited. Transformation of the 700 acres of grassland included: moving an estimated 64,000 tons of soil; damming the stream and creating a serpentine upper pond, which became the park’s centrepiece, with a smaller lower pond; new carriageways; planting an encircling tree belt and contouring the land with clumps of trees placed on the subsequent hills. Even the road from Petworth to Tillington, passing within 50 feet of the house, was moved to its present position.

The sweeping undulations that so characterise the landscape were often captured in paintings by JMW Turner and have also provided inspiration for the Embroiders’ Guild, which is working in partnership with many National Trust properties as part of the Capability Brown celebrations with a special exhibition from 19 March to 26 June. As well as a diverse range of embroidery on display, visitors will have the opportunity to get involved by adding stitches to a reproduction of the original Brown plan of Petworth Park.

Full details of events, including walking trails, will be on the website through the year:

Sheffield Park, Uckfield, TN22 3QX

Originally laid out by Brown and further developed in the early 20th century, this garden of watery reflections with its series of four lakes, although well known for its spectacular autumn colour, is wonderful year-round for a refreshing woodland walk. Meandering paths journey through glades, along the edges of the lakes, over bridges and through woodland with towering specimen trees. There will be a series of events following the themes of Brown’s work, from May onwards.

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Highlights will include: looking at perspectives and views using time-lapse photographs; talks on Brown; observing a carriage journeying through the parkland; restoration of a walkway; and the art of moving a semi-mature oak using Brown’s techniques.

Other elements of the celebrations will be revealed as the year progresses, so keep checking the website:

Ashburnham Place, Battle. TN33 9NF

Originally one of the finest English houses and estates, it is now a Christian conference and prayer centre. With a park of around 220 acres of mature woodland and three large lakes it is truly a tranquil spot for a retreat. Brown laid out the design in the mid-18th century in his naturalistic style and other elements also remain, such as an orangery. It is now used as a tearoom and open to the public, Tuesday to Sunday. Visitors are welcome to walk around the formal gardens and Broadwater Lake during their visit.

Rich in wildlife and lovely in all seasons, there are some further Capability Brown highlights to look out for, including the Lady Spring Grotto, and Brown’s signature Cedar of Lebanon trees by the serpentine lakes. Special events are being planned and gardening clubs or groups can book a garden tour.

For details on events, visiting or staying, go to


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