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Garden Visit | Outstanding gardens in the High Sussex Weald

Highlands and Brightling Down Farm

This morning we visit Highlands, a beautiful country garden with commanding views across the Sussex Weald to the Ashdown Forest. The structure of the eight-acre garden – wrapping around a 15th century Wealden hall house with later additions and a 17th century threshing barn – was principally laid out around 2000. Since then this family garden has evolved observing a wildlife-friendly approach, with areas of wildflower meadow and a natural pond, plus hot beds, a dry bed and a woodland garden.

After morning coffee, our guide will be head gardener Chris Brown, a knowledgeable plantsman, who has stepped up the pace of development here in the past two years, re-landscaping and replanting the white garden and aralia garden plus pink and pollinator beds. To maximise seasonal interest the themed borders around the house and barn use a mix of perennial and annual plants, all propagated on-site in the productive kitchen and cutting garden. A new area of woodland is under development. Chris has exploited the topography and varying soil conditions and niches that this sloping garden offers, experimenting with drought-tolerant planting and creating successional schemes, including many rare and unusual plants.

After a seasonal lunch at a local inn, we will drive to Brightling Down Farm in one of the highest points in East Sussex, where the garden has been designed for owners Val and Peter Stephens by talented design duo Ian Smith and Debbie Roberts of Acres Wild. The brief was to “make a garden that looks as though it has always been here” and that has been completely fulfilled: the sculpted landscape design, artful planting and use of reclaimed materials make it look timeless. From a muddy, exposed site around the newly-built, traditional tile-hung country house in 2002 a masterplan was drawn up, starting with stone terraces and a pergola walkway leading off from the house to a potager-style walled kitchen garden, in weathered materials, packed with vegetables, herbs, fruit and cut flowers for the house. To one side of the wide lawns, a series of three interconnected ponds have been created that team with wildlife. These are linked by narrow streams and waterfalls and crossed by simple zig-zag wooden bridges and stepping stones. Here the planting is tranquil and Japanese in flavour, often in big drifts for strong visual impact. Head gardener Francesca will be our guide and our visit to this inspirational garden will conclude with afternoon tea.

This event has been organised by the Garden Museum’s Garden Visits committee. We recommend you read our Garden Visits Attendee Charter and Refund/exchange policy before booking your place on any of our Garden Visits.

Image: Brightling Down Farm © Acres Wild; Highlands © Mimi Connolly