The Perfect Sussex Indian Summer Destination

The Italian Garden at Borde Hill
The Italian Garden at Borde Hill

As September approaches the change of season always seems to bring an Indian summer to Sussex and where better to enjoy this last burst of light and warmth than Borde Hill gardens.

This week I am in the generous company of Borde Hill’s current custodians, Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke and his wife Eleni.

The gardens at Borde Hill were first laid out by Andrewjohn’s great grandfather, Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke. He purchased the house and land in 1893. Between 1893 and 1937 he 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.

This spirit of adventure is still apparent today. Eleni, a geologist and trained horticulturalist, admits that it is the gardens which most inspire her. She says “This has always been an experimental garden, a place to try new plants. Borde Hill is constantly changing and looking to the future.”

We pause in front of a new vibrant border filled with colour, texture and movement as Eleni enthuses “People love colour today.”

Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke in the Rose Garden at Borde Hill
Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke in the Rose Garden at Borde Hill

The established gardens, too, are constantly being renewed. We find Andrewjohn in the Rose Garden admiring a David Austin Summer Song rose which is a particular favourite of theirs. The colours of the roses are resplendent as though in a painting and to the fore is a wonderful carved Portland stone sculpture, titled Rose Bud, by the artist Will Spankie. For many years the gardens have been complemented by an annual exhibition of contemporary sculpture. All the work is for sale and the sculpture trail adds life and fresh perspectives to the gardens.

Rose Bud sculpture by artist Will Spankie in the Rose Garden
Rose Bud sculpture by artist Will Spankie in the Rose Garden

We come upon the timeless Italian garden. The summer clouds are reflected in the water amongst the lilies with such depth that it is as though the sky and the water are united. Andrewjohn and Eleni’s vision and attention to detail have brought new life to the disciplined symmetry of this garden. You can for a moment believe that you are in a little bit of Italy.

The lives of Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke are bound to this place and the gardens in a very personal way. Their forward looking stewardship ensures that the past is valued and preserved but that the gardens are constantly evolving and changing in a very contemporary way.

Borde Hill’s gardens bless you. As you walk your conversations cannot fail to be informed by the beauty of the place. And there is plenty to inspire the keen horticulturist whether it’s the rare species, the subtle effects of the planting, or the floral compositions before them.

Borde Hill Gardens is the perfect Indian summer destination. The gardens and contemporary sculpture exhibition remain open until 2nd October 2017 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.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Borde Hill Gardens at the Heart of the Arts

Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke open the 2015 Borde Hill Garden ‘Sculpture in the Garden exhibition’

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.

Andrew Bernardi and the ‘1696 Stradivarius’ at Borde Hill

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.

‘Respond 1’, by Angela Conner
‘Respond 1’, by Angela Conner

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.

Teddy Bears’ Picnic at Borde Hill Garden

Rose Garden at Borde Hill

This coming Bank Holiday Monday, 25th August, sees a Teddy Bears’ Picnic supporting the work of Chestnut Tree House at Borde Hill Garden, near Haywards Heath in West Sussex.

Our possessions are so often markers in the procession of our lives, reminding us of particular moments and memories. They allow us to share our personal stories with others. It is as if they are in some way bound up in the patchwork quilt of our lives.

Binky and Jane
Binky and Jane

The photograph of Binky and Jane depicts a plush fur teddy bear and bunny. They are a little play-worn, their fur rather thin after a lifetime of love and attention, and yet they are beyond price. Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke, the current custodian of Borde Hill House and Garden, tells their story: “Binky and Jane belonged to my late mother, Nidia, and accompanied her when she and her family fled the island of Jersey as the Germans prepared to invade the Channel Islands. They could bring only a few precious possessions with them and my mother chose these two favourites.” The Channel Islands remained under occupation until 9th May 1945. Andrewjohn continues, “My mother always held Binky and Jane in great affection.” It is remarkable that these two threadbare but much-loved characters should represent a little girl’s particular place in the turbulent procession of history in the 20th century.

Summer borders at Borde Hill Garden

The garden at Borde Hill reflects the passion of Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke, who purchased the house and grounds in 1892. After restoring and extending the house, he set about creating the garden, funded by his family’s successful shipping firm. Established in 1730, Stephenson Clarke Shipping was, until its demise in 2012, the oldest British family shipping company. I ask Andrewjohn if it could have been one of his family’s ships that had brought Nidia and her family back to England. He replies, “It could well have been; our collier ships did go to Jersey.”

The Chestnut Tree House hospice also seeks to create special memories with its swimming pool, outdoor adventure trails, games and interactive rooms. Those with life-limiting conditions and their families are blessed by being gathered together into this special place with its dedicated and talented team. Chestnut Tree House’s work is deserving of our support.

A teddy bear waiting with his young owner for the picnic to begin at Borde Hill!
A teddy bear waiting with his young owner for the picnic to begin at Borde Hill!

At its heart, Borde Hill House, an Elizabethan mansion dating from 1590, provides a superb backdrop to the formal seventeen-acre garden, which flows into a series of distinctive ‘garden rooms’, each with its own individual character and style. It is the perfect setting for a Teddy Bears’ Picnic and a great place in which to make fond family memories with games and activities throughout the day.

Binky, Jane and Nidia witnessed extraordinary events in history. Chestnut Tree House bears witness to extraordinary events in the everyday, through its very special work with children and their families – memories which, for them, are beyond price.

Our thanks should go to Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke for preserving and sharing this wonderful garden and for supporting such an important local charity.

The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, supporting Chestnut Tree House Children’s Hospice, will be at Borde Hill Garden, Borde Hill Lane, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1XP, on Bank Holiday Monday 25th August 2014, 11am to 4pm. Go and enjoy the fun and the spectacular garden!

For more information on opening times and forthcoming events, go to www.bordehill.co.uk or telephone 01444 450326. To find out more about Chestnut Tree House, its work and how you can offer support, go to www.chestnut-tree-house.org.uk.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 20th August 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Rolls-Royce & Bentley Day at Borde Hill Garden

Rolls Royce Bentley Borde Hill
A magnificent vintage Rolls-Royce and Bentley on the lawns of Borde Hill

Borde Hill Garden holds its Rolls-Royce and Bentley Day this coming Sunday, 20th July 2014. The gardens will be complimented by cars from these famous marques, vehicles which have often been called ‘the best cars in the world.’

Rolls-Royce 20hp Sedanca
Rupert Toovey’s great-grandfather’s Rolls-Royce 20 h.p. Sedanca

I grew up in a family passionate about motoring and cars, especially from the vintage era. Amongst the numerous stories was that of my great-grandfather’s Rolls-Royce 20 h.p. Sedanca. I have often wondered from this photograph of the car with his chauffeur whether it was bodied by the coachbuilders Hooper. In Rolls-Royce’s catalogue of 1905 the company wrote: “Doctors and others connected with the medical profession have, after trying the leading makes, declared the Rolls-Royce to be the only petrol car that they could bring up to a patient’s house and drive away without the possibility of disturbing the patient.” This may have been a tempting marketing quote for my great-grandfather, Edwin Hopewell-Ash, an eminent physician-neurologist and member of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Borde Hill
Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke at Borde Hill

Henry Royce was a gifted engineer of my great-grandfather’s generation. He had a particular gift for perfecting the design and manufacture in areas of emerging technology. Royce refined the multi-cylinder engine, addressing the noise, vibration and inflexibility of other marques’ earlier engines. The Rolls-Royce motor company has its origins in the 1904 partnership between Royce and the motoring and aviation pioneer Charles Stewart Rolls.

Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke and his wife, Eleni, are the current custodians of Borde Hill. This weekend brings together the threads and passions of Andrewjohn’s life – the gardens and engineering. He is himself a leading civil and computer engineer.

With Rolls-Royce now located at Chichester in West Sussex, it seems particularly appropriate that this famous marque’s heritage should be celebrated in this way in our county. Borde Hill Garden has many rare and remarkable plants; it is an exceptional living collection.

This weekend there is a treat in store for motoring and garden enthusiasts alike at Borde Hill Garden, 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.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 16th July 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Borde Hill Garden, The Legacy of a Victorian Plant Collector

Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke
Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke in the Borde Hill Italian garden
Thomas Joynes’s sculpture ‘Henosis’
Thomas Joynes’s abstract sculpture ‘Henosis’, part of the 2014 Borde Hill Garden Sculpture Exhibition
Borde Hill Garden
One of the Borde Hill garden ‘room’ beds

The gardens at Borde Hill reflect the passions of Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke who set about creating them having purchased the house and land in 1893. Between 1893 and 1937 he 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.

The custodianship of this remarkable house and garden is now in the hands of Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke’s great grandson Andrewjohn and his wife Eleni. Like their forebears they are passionate about Borde Hill and its gardens. Eleni, a geologist and trained horticulturalist, admits that it is the gardens which inspire her. She explains “Over recent years we have embarked on a program of intensive new planting regenerating existing beds with perennials, grasses and lots of new trees.” She and her team of dedicated gardeners have worked hard to add even more colour and interest to both the gardens and parklands throughout the season. Eleni enthuses “Colour, texture, smell and light are so important. The gardens must be alive to delight the senses of the visitor.” As you walk around the garden your senses are arrested and delighted. The gardens were first opened to the public by Andrewjohn’s father, Sir Ralph Clarke, in 1965, a tradition which he is proud to continue. This botanically important Grade II* listed Sussex garden is made up of a series of ‘rooms’ and vistas which still speak loudly of the Victorian plant collector. Each enthrals the visitor in turn.

The gardens are complemented by forty exciting sculptures from fourteen artists represented in the 2014 Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition. The work is for sale. Amongst my favourites is the abstract sculpture shown here. Titled ‘Henosis’, it is the work of Thomas Joynes. In classical Greek the word for oneness and unity is henosis. In Platonism the goal of henosis is union with what is fundamental in reality. The artist’s attention to materials, texture, light and form frame the Italian garden and its vista beautifully. The influence of organic, natural forms is apparent in Joynes’ work and is particularly appropriate in this context, uniting us with this garden and parkland landscape.

Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke are clearly united to the procession of their family’s ambitions, life and history in this place. Their day often starts at six or seven in the morning as there are always things to do. But when you are on the right path in life there can be an ease to hard work. Eleni concludes “We are very aware of the wonderful heritage of this living collection’s past and our responsibility to replace or propagate the rare.” Andrewjohn and Eleni’s stewardship is deserving of our thanks. Their passion and dedication are keeping this remarkable collection alive in every sense as a rich botanical resource for us all.

This Bank Holiday weekend treat yourself to a visit to the remarkable Borde Hill Garden, Borde Hill Lane, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1XP. You will take home wonderful memories and who knows maybe even a sculpture! For more information on opening times and forthcoming events go to www.bordehill.co.uk.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 21st May 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.