Real gardens: Nymans

If you’re looking for a garden that is as grand as it is wild, as fascinating historically as it is forward-looking, and as well-designed as it is packed with rare plants, then you couldn’t do much better than visit Nymans in West Sussex. I’ll declare my interest now: this is one of my favourite gardens in the country for all of the above.

I caught up with head gardener Ed Ikin on a horrible January morning when most of the country was frozen still by the heavy snowfall. Even though the gardens at Nymans boast a fat collection of tender South American plants, Ed seemed pretty happy about the terrible weather. He was looking forward to the incredible display of magnolia flowers that the cold snap would precipitate. And sure enough, this spring the early-flowering members of Nymans’ 200-strong collection of the species provided a pretty special show.

The garden was the brainchild of a chap called Ludwig Messel, who bought the estate in 1890. Messel was very keen to experiment with plants, and to showcase his wealth and his gardeners’ ability through the garden.

With his head gardener James Comber, Messel planned and planted a Pinetum, a rock garden and the first tranche of rare magnolias. They also transformed an old orchard into a walled garden, creating a warm microclimate where tender exotic plants from around the world could flourish. These include myrtles, eucryphias and a relative of the avocado, Persea lingue.

The garden is wonderful even in midwinter, filled with multi-stemmed dogwoods, scented daphnes and sarcoccocas. Then in early spring, the snowdrop,s single and double, creep across the lawn, mingling with larger tiffany-lamp spring snowflakes. Later still, the huge wisteria walk is filled with heady scent.

The beautiful house was devastated by a fire in the, and has only been partially restored. So up the eerily beautiful ruined walls stand starkly behind topiary hedges, and are partly clothed with huge Magnolia grandiflora.

One of the best things about Nymans is that it hasn’t stood still since passing into the hands of the National Trust. Ikin is keen to continue developing the garden into the 21st century. To that end, he is also leading an incredibly exciting sustainability agenda at the garden. The garden is run on organic, biodynamic principles, and Ikin and his team practise water harvesting and conservation, as well as composting all the waste food (including meat) from the on-site restaurant. He’s determined that the garden should become a beacon of sustainable gardening practice and is joining with other gardens around the country to share ideas and best practice (which makes me fall a little bit more in love with Nymans).

This is a truly marvellous garden, divided into so many rooms, and such a beacon of excellence in planting, design and sustainability. Visit it!

Please be aware that all images on this post are protected by copyright. They are owned by the National Trust Picture Library, and credit is provided to the individual photographers on each image. You may not use these images without prior permission.

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4 Responses

  1. Laurie Brown

    What a beautiful garden, and the building- in ruins or not- is stunning. I love that it’s being run by sustainable practices. It will last a lot longer that way!

  2. Victoria

    Until my recent visit, I would have said the same – Nymans was my favourite garden of all. But when I went in August, the rose garden looked awful (it’s been replanted since the NT took that pic), the herbaceous borders aren’t as good, and I don’t remember the topiary looking as good as it does here. It was embarrassing, in fact, because I’d taken an American friend “to see what the perfect English garden should look like”. i was so shocked, I asked one of the rangers about it. She said it had been a bad year for roses (true, but they’ve been in for four years, and they’re not even up to the top of the rose arches yet) and they don’t have the staff. So sad.


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