Riot of spring colour heralds re-opening of historic gardens

Leonardslee Gardens, Lower Beeding. Photo by Derek Martin Photography. SUS-180427-233119008
Leonardslee Gardens, Lower Beeding. Photo by Derek Martin Photography. SUS-180427-233119008

Workers are labouring around the clock in a bid to re-open a famed beauty spot to the public this summer.

New owners of the historic landscaped gardens - the Leonardslee estate at Lower Beeding, desribed as ‘England’s finest woodland gardens’ - hope to throw open their gates to the public once more in July.

Azaleas and spring flowers in the estate’s rock gardens - built in 1890 - are currently a riot of colour and the finishing touches are being put to the estate’s Italianate 19th century mansion which will house a fine dining restaurant, tea rooms and bar.

Estate manager Adam Streeter, whose mother Penny bought the 200-acre seven-lake estate last year, said restoration work had been held up because of poor weather and the discovery of protected species of newts and bats.

But progress is now ongoing and a successful wedding fair was held there last week.

Businesswoman Penny and her family also own the South African Benguela Collection vineyard and hospitality group which includes the Mannings Heath Golf Club and Wine Estate within miles of Leonardslee.

It also includes Benguela Cove vineyard in South Africa, as well as four restaurants and a hotel on the Garden Route.

It is planned to also produce wine at Leonardslee and the first vines are due to be planted there next month.

It’s all part of a massive undertaking to restore the grounds of Leonardslee - still home to colonies of wallabies and deer - which were left neglected and overgrown since 2010 after being bought by a mystery buyer.

The gardens previously attracted around 50,000 visitors a year and were originally planted in 1801 by pioneering Victorian plant collector Sir Edmund Loder.

They include a unique collection of rhododendrons, magnolias and azaleas as well as many species of trees.

The gardens are listed as Grade I in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.

Among other attractions there is a unique doll’s house museum, depicting the Edwardian estate and neighbouring villages.