On a num­ber of much-an­tic­i­pated sum­mer days, the pretty town of Winchelsea in East Sus­sex opens its gar­dens to hun­dreds of vis­i­tors, many of whom come back year after year to en­joy the de­lights on of­fer

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by paula mcwaters pho­to­graphs by suzie gib­bons

Winchelsea’s pri­vate gar­dens have turned the town into a hor­ti­cul­tural hotspot

On an av­er­age week­day, the lit­tle East Sus­sex town of Winchelsea can seem quiet and sleepy, but all that changes for the NGS Open Gar­den days, when its an­cient streets – ar­ranged in a grid around St Thomas’ Church and its large church­yard – are thronged with peo­ple criss-cross­ing this way and that to en­ter the gates of many usu­ally un­seen gar­dens.

“It’s the big­gest event on our cal­en­dar,” says or­gan­iser David Page, “and ev­ery­one plays their part, whether they are help­ing to serve the teas, sit­ting at a ta­ble to col­lect en­trance money or di­rect­ing traf­fic to the park­ing places.”

Billed as Winchelsea’s Se­cret Gar­dens and in­au­gu­rated over 20 years ago, it at­tracts around 800 vis­i­tors, with a record of 1,000 on one oc­ca­sion. “The thing is with Winchelsea, you never know what you are go­ing to find be­hind the houses,” says Howard Nor­ton, who helps David co-or­di­nate the event. “The gar­dens are carved up in un­ex­pected ways, so you might dis­cover a huge one be­hind a cot­tage and a much smaller one be­hind a large house. It is very in­trigu­ing for vis­i­tors to see what lies be­yond those lovely old gar­den walls.”

Gilly and Tony Tug­man have been open­ing their quirky gar­den at 2 Strand Plat for seven years. Tucked be­hind their long white Ge­or­gian house, with its bub­blegum-pink front door and even pinker climb­ing roses, is a gar­den that per­fectly re­flects Gilly’s gen­er­ous, wel­com­ing per­son­al­ity. From the nar­row court­yard, the space opens up onto a lawn that weaves through bor­ders filled with typ­i­cally English coun­try-gar­den peren­ni­als and roses, and of­fers a tan­ta­lis­ing glimpse of Winchelsea church at its end.

Gilly has changed the gar­den com­pletely since she ar­rived, putting in 40 clema­tis, 30 to 40 dif­fer­ent roses and a Ken­tucky cof­fee tree (Gym­n­o­cladus dioica), which al­ways at­tracts com­ment. The house even has its own tiny chapel, which Tony now uses as a stu­dio. Two moon gates, one wreathed in gold­enyel­low ‘Gar­dener’s Glory’ roses, frame the church and there are long views right over to the sea at Dun­geness.

At Cleve­land Place, Sally and Gra­ham Rhodda like the fact that many vis­i­tors re­turn year after year, keen to see what the lat­est

“It’s the high spot of the year and an over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence”

devel­op­ments are in their court­yard gar­den. “We have quite a fol­low­ing,” Sally says. “They come with note­books in hand, so we la­bel our plants, which peo­ple seem to find help­ful.” It is one of the small­est to open, but nev­er­the­less is packed with in­spi­ra­tional ideas that draw ad­mi­ra­tion and ques­tions. The colour schem­ing is par­tic­u­larly har­mo­nious, with a pre­pon­der­ance of plum and ma­genta off­set with sil­ver and the oc­ca­sional vivid or­ange, in­clud­ing Geum ‘Prinses Ju­liana’. Stak­ing is vi­tal here, as the gar­den is ex­posed to strong south-west­erly winds.

At Periteau House, Felic­ity and Lawrence Youl­ten have 124 roses in their gar­den, in­clud­ing the ex­u­ber­ant pink flori­bunda ‘Sexy Rexy’, which catches vis­i­tors’ eyes as soon as they walk through the gate. Periteau House is Tu­dor, dat­ing to about 1450, and it is es­ti­mated that the enor­mous yew tree that tow­ers over one side of their gar­den is about 250-300 years old. “Peo­ple al­ways ask us how we prune it,” say Felic­ity, who has opened for 17 years, “so we now pro­vide a set of pho­to­graphs that show the whole process.” The gar­den is com­pletely en­cir­cled by other prop­er­ties and is one of the sur­prises in size as it is im­pos­si­ble to see how large it might be un­til you are in it. Vis­i­tors tend to linger here un­der a shady per­gola cov­ered in wis­te­ria, ap­pre­ci­at­ing stone urns filled with colour­ful pelargo­ni­ums.

Stone fea­tures in Lis and Tony Jasper’s gar­den, too, a labyrinthine one-acre site that is an ad­ven­ture in it­self. It is set be­hind one of Winchelsea’s most his­toric houses, The Ar­moury, which dates back to the 13th cen­tury. Di­vided into ten gar­den rooms with dif­fer­ent themes, in­clud­ing a sea­side gar­den, rock gar­den and a fern-filled grotto, it has ser­pen­tine paths that weave be­tween huge crenel­lated yew hedges and top­i­arised trees, re­veal­ing it­self lit­tle by lit­tle. There is even a gi­ant chess set, which Tony lays out mid-game to tempt vis­i­tors to fin­ish it. There are trees grown from seed and a won­der­ful fallen

eu­ca­lyp­tus. The Jaspers’ gar­den has the great ad­van­tage of ac­com­mo­dat­ing many peo­ple at the same time.

At Cleve­land House, Sarah and Jonathan Jemp­son’s gar­den looks out over Na­tional Trust fields to­wards the sea. It has evolved over 40 years, with a man­i­cured lawn and for­mal wa­ter fea­ture com­plete with stone obelisk on one side and a ro­man­tic, pic­to­rial meadow and sum­mer­house on the other, with a cov­ered walk­way in be­tween. Again, this is a gar­den to linger in, en­joy­ing the sight of a stun­ning white wis­te­ria and the many colour­ful peren­ni­als.

Howard Nor­ton, who runs the thriv­ing Winchelsea Gar­dens So­ci­ety, is hugely en­thu­si­as­tic about the open days. He and David Page open their own gar­den, Rye View, down the hill from the main grid of streets, on the banks of the river. They are avid plant col­lec­tors – they have a strik­ing ar­ray of bam­boos, for in­stance – and en­joy the af­fir­ma­tion they get from knowl­edge­able plant-lovers.

“It is the high spot of the year and an over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one,” Howard says. “Im­por­tantly, it is such an easy and rel­a­tively pain­less way of rais­ing quite a lot of money for good causes. We have the gar­dens, and would main­tain them any­way be­cause we love them, so it’s no trou­ble for us to open them for other peo­ple to en­joy.”

Eleven of Winchelsea’s se­cret gar­dens are open­ing for the NGS on 16 June, 11am-5pm, ad­mis­sion £6, chil­dren free. Visit to see which will be open on that date and for de­tails of a fur­ther open­ing on 22 Septem­ber, 1pm-5pm.

ABOVE, CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT At 2 Strand Plat, Neme­sia ‘Vanilla’ and Ba­copa ‘Snowflake’, grown from plug plants, tum­ble down an old lad­der un­der a wil­low; vis­i­tors en­joy char­ac­ter­ful touches, in­clud­ing urns and stat­ues; pink ‘High Hopes’ and...

OP­PO­SITE Tow­er­ing top­i­arised trees and crenel­lated yew hedges cre­ate a dra­matic back­drop to plant­ing at the his­toric Ar­moury THIS PAGE The L-shaped plot at Cleve­land Place in­cludes a charm­ing pink seat­ing area and colour­ful plant­ing, with bright blue...

TOP The gravel ter­race be­hind Rye View fea­tures a va­ri­ety of sun-lov­ing plants ABOVE AND BELOW Vis­i­tors of­ten linger in Felic­ity and Lawrence’s gar­den at Periteau House, where a ven­er­a­ble wis­te­ria and pink ‘Agatha Christie’ rose scram­ble over a shady...

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