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West Dean Gardens

Updated: Jul 30, 2019

On 22nd July - an overcast but warm morning - I visited West Dean gardens in West Sussex with a group of friends from the local U3A garden visits group.

The gardens are part of The Edward James Foundation. Edward James was a poet but is best known for his passionate support of the surrealist movement including his creation of the extraordinary Las Pozas sculpture garden in Mexico. In 1964, he gave his English estate at West Dean to a charitable trust. Today the Edward James Foundation comprises West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, West Dean Gardens, West Dean Estate and West Dean Tapestry Studio.


The Pergola


Arriving at 11:15, we first grabbed a coffee before heading out into the gardens. Initially we walked around the back of the house intending to pass by the church and visit the Spring Garden in the morning, but due to conservation work the path between the church and the house was closed so we walked up to the Pergola instead.

Originally Edwardian, the pergola was designed by architect Harold Peto but it had to be extensively restored following storm damage in 1987. It is 300 feet long with a lily pond at its half-way point and a gazebo at its western end. When we visited the stone pillars were covered in climbing clematis, rose and honeysuckle, although one of my friends told me that it is also spectacular earlier in the year when magnolia are in bloom. Along its southern edge there is a flower bed full of perennials, offering a delightful foreground for views of the South Downs.

Left to right and top to bottom: 1 - pergola from the gazebo (west end), 2&3 - views from pergola, 4& 5 - roses, 6 - honeysuckle, 7 - clematis, 8 - lily pond, 9 - pergola from the east end.


The Sunken Garden


From the Pergola we walked down into the Sunken Garden. According to the West Dean Gardens website, the original Sunken Garden is thought to have been built around the late 19th century to replace a late Victorian rose parterre. It had fallen into disrepair with collapsed walls, uneven paving and lots of weeds so a six year restoration project took place with it being reopened in Spring 2014. It is a quiet spot with plenty of seating, sheltered by clipped box hedges.

Left to right and top to bottom: 1 - overview, 2 - santolina, 3 - Silene uniflora Roth (sea campion), 4 - rosemary (arching habit, poss. "foxtail"), 5 - tiered beds, 6 - no idea, suggestions welcome!, 7 - steps, 8 - rose, 9 - some sort of sedum?, 10 - eryngium (sea holly), 11 - Agapanthus umbellatus (African lily), 12 - view of the clipped box


The Kitchen Garden


Just East of the Sunken Garden we reached the walled garden area comprising the Kitchen, Cutting and Fruit gardens and the glasshouses. The kitchen garden held a huge variety of vegetables and fruit.

Left to right and top to bottom: 1 - squash, 2 - caged brassicas, 3-4 - globe artichoke, 5 - cold frames


The Cutting Garden and glasshouses


The cutting garden is an area used to grow flowers for cutting and display. More tend plants are housed in the Victoria glasshouses, originally built between 1890 and 1900 and restored in the early 1990s and currently being restored once again. One glasshouse is devoted to chillies, and West Dean hold a popular Chilli Fiesta every summer.

Left to right and top to bottom: 1 - Alstroemeria (I think it's aurea Graham), 2&3 - overviews of the cutting gardens, 4 - streptocarpus polka dot red, 5&6 - views into glasshouses, 7 - not sure whether this is one fern or two growing through each other 8&9 - chillies


The Walled Fruit garden


The orchard area houses over 100 varieties of apple and 45 varieties of pear, and there is a charming old apple store built into the western wall. The orchard is underplanted with wild flowers.


One thing I always find particularly interesting at West Dean is the range of ways in which they train their fruit trees and bushes, some examples can be seen below.

Left to right and top to bottom: 1 - espaliered pear, 2 - dwarf apples, 3 - vertical rings (apple), 4 - pyramid (apple), 5 - berries trained vertically, 6 - pears cover a pergola


The Walled Flower garden


Marked on the map as part of the Walled Fruit garden, a substantial area has been turned over to a formal flower garden.

Left to right and top to bottom: 1 - nigella seed head, 2- roses cascade over the apple store, 3 - overview, 4 - view from the apple store, 5 - echinops, 6 - day lilly, 7&8 - blue and white themed areas, 9 - clematis seed head


The Spring and Wild gardens


After a lovely lunch in the site cafe we walked around the front of the house to the Spring and Wild garden areas. These merge into each other so I'm covering them as a single entity.

At this time of year it was difficult to see how the Spring garden gets its name as we were well into the summer, but the area also contains a lot of tropical plants and pretty stream beds with flintwork bridges topped with a local building stone known as "Bognor rock". The streams are fed by the River Lavant which is a "winterbourne" so is mostly dry at this time of the year, I must visit when it is full of water sometime!

Left to right and top to bottom: 1 - path in the spring garden, 2- a pretty thatched seating area nestles next to a grove of bamboo, there are several of these shady nooks in the gardens, 3 - a tropical island 4 - pond in the wild garden, 5 - pink fuchsias, 6 - path in the wild garden, 7 - unsure, suggestions welcome, 8 - bullrushes (cattails), 9 - stream seen from one of the bridges.


Art works and buildings


At certain time the gardens house works of art produced by West Dean students, but when we visited we only saw the permanent installations. And the roof was being restored with the result that the house was swathed in scaffolding and tarpaulin, but I managed to capture a couple of shots of smaller areas.

Left to right and top to bottom: 1 - fibreglass tree trunk, one of two created by Edward James; 2-5 - sculptures, 6 - clock tower, 7 - covered balcony


Messing about


Regular readers will know that I enjoy messing about with camera filters and colours, here are some shots from West Dean which I've played around with.

Left to right and top to bottom: 1 - trunk slate filter, 2 - trunk monochrome clarity and light adjusted, 3 - tree trunk monochrome, 4 - tree boll arctic filter, 5 - extreme close up of moss-like plant, neo filter


Want to visit West Dean?


West Dean gardens are open from February to December, see their website for details: https://www.westdean.org.uk/gardens/opening-hours-and-admissions



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