It is the ev­er­green struc­ture of the gar­den at Sedg­wick Park in West Sus­sex, a mix of for­mal and wild, that steals the show in the depths of the chilly sea­son

Period Living - - Gardens - Words An­nette War­ren/rachel Crow | Pho­to­graphs GAP Pho­tos/clive Nichols

With the morn­ing frost dust­ing the yew top­i­ary, the win­try gar­den scene at Sedg­wick Park is mag­nif­i­cent. Built at the turn of the 20th cen­tury, the Grade Ii-listed prop­erty near Hor­sham, in West Sus­sex, was de­signed by ar­chi­tects and gar­den de­sign­ers Harold Peto and Ernest Ge­orge, a part­ner­ship that spanned 16 years, dur­ing which time they de­signed sev­eral coun­try res­i­dences.

Sedg­wick Park house it­self echoes the Arts and Crafts move­ment, while the gar­den, de­signed by Peto, strongly re­flects his Euro­pean trav­els, fea­tur­ing an Ital­ian-style de­sign with sym­met­ri­cal top­i­ary and sweep­ing ter­races which lead on to the rec­tan­gu­lar wa­ter gar­den, bordered by clipped yew ar­bours. The house and gar­dens over­look the mag­nif­i­cent South Downs, where the Chanc­ton­bury Ring can be glimpsed on a clear day.

Fea­tured in Coun­try Life sev­eral times in the first half of the 20th cen­tury, dur­ing its hey­day the gar­den was ad­mired as a ‘dis­tin­guished place among the gar­dens of Eng­land’. Peto’s de­sign was to a nau­ti­cal theme, with ar­eas aptly named ‘The Up­per Deck’, ‘The Cap­tain’s Bridge’, ‘The Cabin’ and ‘The Bul­warks’.

In the 1950s, Sedg­wick’s then owner, Lord Rother­wick, cre­ated a stream with a se­ries of 21 small pools in­ter­linked by waterfalls, which cul­mi­nated in a large pool to­wards the end of the for­mal gar­dens, to com­ple­ment Peto’s de­sign. The house over­looks a fur­ther canal pool, named ‘The White Sea’, which is bordered by yew top­i­ary and pam­pas grass in per­fect sym­me­try.

Sadly, the gar­den and house fell into dis­re­pair dur­ing the lat­ter part of the 20th cen­tury, with hedges grow­ing mis­shapen, herba­ceous beds over­grown, and weeds crawl­ing up among the ter­races. Now, how­ever, un­der the care­ful guid­ance of cur­rent own­ers, John and Clare Dav­i­son, who pur­chased the house and grounds in 2001, work­ing along­side gardeners Martin Mee­han and Kevin Toms, the gar­dens have been re­stored to their for­mer glory.

Sedg­wick is ro­man­ti­cised by its slightly faded grandeur – the sweep­ing Hor­sham stone ter­races aged with moss, ma­ture box top­i­ary and hedg­ing punc­tu­ated by sweep­ing spec­i­men trees. A hard frost sharp­en­ing the top­i­ary shapes and stat­ues gives an al­most ethe­real, won­der­land qual­ity, and by cu­ri­ous co­in­ci­dence, Al­ice Lid­dell, the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind Lewis Car­roll’s Al­ice in Won­der­land books, hon­ey­mooned at Sedg­wick in 1880. Her new hus­band, Regi­nald Hen­der­son, was the brother of Emma Hen­der­son, who code­signed the gar­den with Peto, and who owned the house be­tween 1878 and 1931.

‘The yew hedg­ing is cut once a year, which his­tor­i­cally was sent off for phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal pur­poses,’ ex­plains Kevin Toms. ‘Orig­i­nally the land was not pro­tected from deer and fal­low, so a lot of the yew hedges be­came mis­shapen, but over the past eight years we have been able to re­struc­ture the shapes of them. We have had to be cre­ative with the top­i­ary, and work around what na­ture had cre­ated; a lot had to be taken back to the trunk to start the process again,’ he adds.

Stat­u­ary is a dom­i­nant fea­ture in the gar­den’s land­scape, with clas­sic, weath­ered pieces dot­ted through­out, sit­ting along­side more con­tem­po­rary bronze sculp­tures. Some are quite quirky: a hippo lay­ing on the verge of the top pond; an old red tele­phone box sit­ting peace­fully at the end of a rose walk, and many oth­ers find­ing their own place of rest to fit seam­lessly into their sur­round­ings. Even the gar­den’s nat­u­ral of­fer­ings have been turned into fo­cal points. ‘When the blue cedar that shad­owed one of our ponds died about four years ago, the 20-foot stump was trans­formed into an Al­ice in Won­der­land sculp­ture,’ ex­plains Kevin.

Mar­ginal plant­ing around the wa­ter fea­tures in­cludes marsh-marigolds with their early yel­low flow­ers, wild gar­lic, hostas, prim­u­las and an abun­dance of fern va­ri­eties. ‘Large gun­neras are stun­ning or­na­men­tal fea­tures dur­ing sum­mer by the wa­ter’s edge, while over win­ter, the large fo­liage of this gi­ant rhubarb serves to pro­tect the plant’s del­i­cate crowns,’ says Kevin.

The 90-acre es­tate sits on the site of the 13th­cen­tury Sedg­wick Cas­tle, of which some re­mains can be found in the wood­land area of the 15-acre, south-fac­ing gar­den, which also fea­tures a heather gar­den, where moss-cov­ered rocks nes­tle among the spriggy heathers. Be­yond lies a more re­cent ad­di­tion – a turf labyrinth, wind­ing its way to a cen­tral stand­ing stone.

The grav­elled drive to the front of the prop­erty is lined with wild­flower mead­ows, now dor­mant in the stark frost, with sil­hou­ette trees glow­ing cop­per in the ghostly early morn­ing light. ‘The morn­ing mist of­ten drifts over the grounds,’ says Kevin. ‘It re­ally is a most mag­i­cal place.’

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