One of the biggest garden restoration projects in the UK led to Leonardslee Gardens being featured on BBC TV’s Gardeners’ World last week.
The gardens at Lower Beeding had been left neglected and overgrown for years before being bought by South African-based entrepreneur Penny Streeter.
Gardeners’ World presenter Joe Swift was given an insight into the restoration work at Leonardslee’s 240-acre site.
Owner Penny Streeter described on the programme how she first came upon the historic woodland gardens, which were closed to the public and neglected for nine years, and then set about transforming Leonardslee back to its former glory in a 20-month project.
Head gardener Ray Abraham described the detailed restoration work which included careful pruning and extensive clearance of neglected and overgrown areas and the rebuilding of nearly 10 miles of pathways through the woodlands.
The Grade I Listed gardens feature outstanding displays of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and magnolias. Plants were added to the collection from all over the world in the 1800s by the owners at the time, the Loder family, including several plants that are now threatened in their natural habitat.
The estate is identifying them and sharing the seedbank with Kew Gardens, said Ray.
There are some 450 species of rhododendron in the gardens, around half the number of those to be found anywhere in the world.
Plants highlighted in the programme included Rhododendron ‘White Glory’ and the rare Rhododendron hodgsonii - the valleys where they grow in China are now dammed and flooded.
The gardens are landscaped in a valley around a series of lakes that were dug out for iron ore to produce cannonballs for Oliver Cromwell’s army.
Leonardslee also features a Pulham rock garden, dolls’ house museum and colony of wallabies.
The Grade II Listed mansion house offers visitors classic high tea, while Restaurant Interlude is rapidly building a reputation for fine dining with its locally foraged tasting menu.