This last weekend I found myself returning to Borde Hill Gardens, near Haywards Heath in West Sussex, as the guest of Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke and his wife Eleni. These generous custodians have worked hard to put Borde Hill and its famous gardens at the heart of the arts in West Sussex. Borde Hill Gardens are celebrating their 50th Anniversary of being open to the public.
Much has been written about the importance of the gardens and plant collection. Between 1893 and 1937 Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke sponsored many of the Great Plant Collectors’ expeditions. They returned with rare specimens brought back from their travels in the Himalayas, China, Burma, Tasmania and the Andes. Many of these plant species are still at the heart of the collection which make up the seventeen acres of formal gardens we enjoy today.
As the Friends of the Shipley Arts Festival gather at Borde Hill Andrewjohn welcomes us in the panelled Drawing Room. He explains that his family have owned Borde Hill since 1892 and says “Although my family extended the house and this room I think my great-grandfather was more interested in the gardens than the house. When he came to Borde Hill the land gave him the opportunity to plan, layout and plant the garden.” Andrewjohn speaks with a gentle pride and understanding of his own place in the story of Borde Hill. As he does his love for it and the desire to share it with others is apparent.
Andrew Bernardi, Artistic Director of the Shipley Arts Festival, leads a trio of remarkable musicians which includes the cellist Jonathan Few and pianist, Maria Marchant. The concert opens with two Debussy pieces written at about the time that Andrewjohn’s grandfather purchased Borde Hill. There is an intimacy in this setting as the delights of the concert unfold.
The textural melodies and rhythms of the music take me back to the week before when I joined my friends Andrewjohn and Eleni at the opening of their 2015 Borde Hill Sculpture in the Garden Exhibition. We gathered in the Italian Garden for the opening, as sculptor Angela Corner’s ‘Respond 1’ rose and fell responding to the forces of nature and the flow of water. The piece brings your senses alive to the play of light, sound and movement as you respond to the sculpture and the setting.
As I continued around the gardens the sight and scent of banks of bluebells, contrasted against the bright new leaves on trees, the giant rhododendrons and magnolias, made me feel more fully alive. The sculptures, like Guy Portelli’s ‘3 Blue Pokers’, are framed beautifully by the plants and gardens in this ever changing setting.
The Gardens extend into traditional parkland and woodlands, where the variety of micro-climates have contributed to the best collection of ‘champion’ trees (the tallest and largest girth) on privately-owned land in Britain. These ‘champion’ trees, together with many other exotic specimens, provide a canopy for spring flowers in Warren Wood, which is over 100 year’s old, and Stephanie’s Glade.
Andrewjohn and Eleni have placed Borde Hill Gardens at the heart of our community and the arts and their generous spirit and dedication is deserving of our thanks and support.
You must treat yourselves to an outing to Borde Hill Gardens. The 2015 Sculpture in the Garden runs until 1st September 2015 at Borde Hill Gardens, Borde Hill Lane, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1XP, For more information on opening times and forthcoming events go to www.bordehill.co.uk or telephone 01444 450326.
For information on The Shipley Arts Festival concerts click here.
Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 13th May 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.