Delays have hit plans to re-open historic landscaped gardens on the edge of Horsham next month.
Owners of the 200-acre lakes and gardens estate at Leonardslee, Lower Beeding, announced today that the long-awaited re-opening of the site to the public is being postponed from March to July.
Delays have been caused, say the owners, by poor weather, the discovery of protected species of newts and bats and the need to upgrade the site to meet safety and environmental standards.
The estate was closed to the public in 2010 when it was bought by a mystery buyer but had previously attracted around 50,000 visitors a year.
It was bought last year by South African-based businesswoman Penny Streeter who also owns the Benguela Collection vineyard and hospitality group - which includes the 400-acre Mannings Heath Golf Course and Wine Estate, close to Leonardslee.
Since then workers have been toiling round the clock in a bid to restore the gardens to their former glory.
The site was first planted in 1801 and is noted for outstanding displays of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, magnolias, spring flowers and its rock garden.
Since 2010, the upkeep of the estate was largely neglected and the new owners say that the site has required a ‘major programme of works to restore pathways and lakeside walks and to meet environmental protection requirements, such as for the protection of colonies of endangered newts and bats.’
Facilities are also being fully upgraded with a new restaurant and tearooms.
Leoandardslee estate general manager Adam Streeter said:“We are doing everything we can to restore the gardens, lakes and house to its former glory and it is taking longer than planned because of a number of factors beyond our control.
“The weather has been against us, with considerable rainfall delaying the refurbishment of pathways and other essential works. We have two teams of builders and gardeners who are out in all weathers, but inevitably the rain impacts on what they can achieve.
“We shall open fully in July and are in contact with all those who have taken out an annual membership, and thank them for their patience.
“Before the opening, we plan to offer some limited access to the house and restaurants, rock garden and dolls house museum. We are already taking bookings for weddings and group events throughout the rest of year, from July 2018.
“I would like to thank all of the members of the public expressing their interest and goodwill. Please see our website for updated information at www.leonardsleegardens.co.uk.”
Visitors will be able to see the unique doll’s house exhibition, depicting the Edwardian estate and neighbouring villages at 1/12th scale, and also a rare colony of wallabies that have grazed in the gardens for over a century.
Leonardslee features a 19th-century Italianate style house, listed Grade II for architectural merit.
The gardens are listed Grade I on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. They cover 200 acres of a steep sandstone valley, in which there are a series of seven man-made ponds.
The site includes two alpine glasshouses, in need of refurbishment. A rock garden near the house was built in 1890 by the well-known Victorian landscaping company James Pulham and Son.
For further information: www.leonardsleegardens.co.uk Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, Lower Beeding, Horsham RH13 6PP