In my quest for winter gardens, I revisited a charming place today, which reminded me that this is also a wonderful winter garden and it's free! Highdown is one of the hidden treasures of England's south coast, and it's well worth taking a detour for, with its magnificent views over the surrounding countryside and the English Channel.
Visit in the cold winter months and you'll find fantastic displays of hellebores (above) and snowdrops, but also spectacular Himalayan birch bark cherry (prunus) in blossom, which warms the heart on a grey day. This 9-acre garden was the brainchild of Sir Frederick Stern, who acquired many unusual plants from the well-known collector, Reginald Farrer, who brought many plants home from China and the Himalayas.
Spring brings swathes of daffodils, which will stop you in your tracks; and in the summer months, Highdown is ablaze with irises (above) and peonies (below) - making staggering displays of colour that will make your spirits soar. What's unusual about this garden is that it was created out of a chalk pit.
In autumn too, there is much colour because of the fine collection of trees, and you can clearly see how the garden was created from a chalk pit. When Sir Frederick bought the site, he was told that he would have great difficulty growing plants here, but he set out to prove his critics wrong, and the result is the wonderful garden there today.
When Sir Frederick died, he left his house and garden to Worthing Council, and they have maintained it ever since. It is a really lovely garden and well worth making a detour for. There is no entry fee, although the strategically-placed green postbox at the entrance is hard to ignore, and I certainly put all my loose change in each time I visit, because I'm more than happy to contribute to the upkeep of this "secret" garden. There is a full-time gardener here, but much of the maintenance is done by volunteers, and I'm planning to join them next spring.
I shall be looking at other free gardens in this area, which have good winter plants in later posts, including Rudyard Kipling's garden in East Sussex, and some of the wonderful parks in Brighton.