The site has a woodland garden. There are camellias, rhododendrons, a wild orchid meadow, bluebell wood, newly-developed herbaceous borders and a herb and vegetable garden. Restoration is continuing under the present ownership.
Scrubland was purchased in 1934. The house was built by the Hellyer family and finished in 1938. There were two extensions (1948-9 and 1959). The site was run as a market garden during the war and for some time afterwards. Trees were planted in the 1940s. Borders were developed in the late-1940s and 1950s. New borders, patios and hedge planting were developed from 1989 onwards.
It is a garden of year-round interest, planted in a naturalistic way. Hellebores, snowdrops, scillas, camellias, rhododendrons, amelanchier, fothergillas, oemleria cerasiformis, witch hazel, magnolias herald the spring. There are daffodils by the thousand by Easter, bluebells in a wood in May, wild orchids under the Catalpa in June, a stalwart conifer and heather border, glorious herbaceous borders, shrubaceous borders flowering through to the frosts, asters (covered in butterflies), Rudbeckia and wonderful grasses.
There was a small nursery at Orchards selling plants propagated from the garden. These are predominately herbaceous plants, with a speciality of Hardy Geraniums.This appears (2008) no longer to be open.
- House (featured building)
- Description: The style is based on a Canadian Barn.
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- Herbaceous Border
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- Description: A very small vegetable garden and herb garden.
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Detailed HistoryA field in the hamlet of Rowfant was purchased in 1934. The only access was at the lower end of the six acre slope, across a strip of land next to a farm lane. This strip of land was purchased shortly afterwards, creating a field of approximately 8.6 acres or scrubland not cultivated for 50 years.
The Hellyers built a wooded shack at the bottom of this slope whilst building themselves a house. The style of house was based on a Canadian Barn, and was completed in 1938. Outbuildings were built for the goats and cows. There was no water so they sunk themselves a well.
During and after the war Orchards was run as a market garden. There were apple and pear orchards, a large fruit garden and a large vegetable garden. Three of the old pear trees remain, as do some of the oldest orchards. It was also used as inspiration for many of the garden books written by Arthur Hellyer.
We now know that some of the splendid mature, ornamental trees were planted in the early days. Measured and registered by Owen Johnson of TROBI in October 1999 as trees of national importance.
No records have been found to show plans or intentions. Obviously the surrounding woodlands and skylines have changed in the last sixty or more years.
Arthur Hellyer was a prolific garden writer, author and photographer, continuing to work until he was 89. He was assistant editor of Amateur Gardening magazine, becoming its editor in 1947 and retiring in 1967. He would claim that it was after this time that he really began to work hard! He wrote over thirty books, not just about practical gardening but about garden history, design, exhibiting and gardens to visit. He was a vice-president of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and judged on the floral committee for the RHS shows and at Wisley. He was awarded the VMH in 1967 and the Dean Hole Medal. He also received an MBE for his services to horticulture.
For the first ten years of his retirement he travelled extensively with his wife Gay. She was his best friend, proof reader, indexer and constant companion until her untimely death in 1977. He continued to write for the Saturday gardening supplement of the Financial Times, Homes and Gardens, Country Life and the BBS Journal The Garden. He continued his travels, always able to write at least one story about something of horticultural interest. He gardened at Orchards until a few months before his death. He is one of only two people to have their photographs on the cover of the RHS JOURNAL the other being Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. He was also featured on the frontispiece of Country Life magazine in celebration of his 90th birthday.
Despite the amount of work that was put in, the garden had fallen into neglect. Much work has been undertaken to restore, develop, redesign and maintain the garden. Much is still to be done, but the improvement is significant. The garden has been changed, adding more borders for herbaceous perennials, linking the specimens together for more easy maintenance, planting many hedges to add structure, a very small vegetable garden and herb garden.
- Associated People
Penelope S. Hellyer
Sussex Gardens Trust