Throughout this year West Dean Gardens has been celebrating a lifetime of commitment since head gardeners, Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain, began restoring the internationally renowned 19th century landscape 25 years ago. The gardens attract around 85,000 visitors every year from all over the UK and rest of the world. Activities included a coveted award, a remarkable show of public support for the Save the Glasshouses appeal and a summer Garden Party for horticulturists and gardens staff where Jim and Sarah welcomed back Peter Thoday, horticulturist, writer and presenter of the BBC's highly successful The Victorian Garden (1987) which inspired the renovation of the derelict walled garden at West Dean. A highly successful appeal Save the Glasshouses launched early in the year has exceeded expectations, raising over £35,000 in donations to restore the Fig House, one of 13 Victorian glasshouses which are some of the finest examples in the UK still in working condition. The Prince of Wales toured the glasshouses in 1996 at the opening of the new Visitors Centre.
West Dean is 'Horticulturally, the best garden in the UK', says Peter Thoday, horticulturist, writer and presenter who was very supportive of Gardens Manager, Jim's vision back in 1992.
In June, Jim and Sarah were awarded the inaugural Custodian Award for Outstanding Contribution by the industry's Horticulture Week magazine. Additionally, West Dean was the only garden out of three projects to be shortlisted for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's prestigious Historic England's Heritage Angel Award for Outstanding Contribution to Heritage. The gardens are listed Grade II on the English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
"25 years is a significant chunk of any life so it has been both an honour and a pleasure to have our joint service (of 50 years!) so generously celebrated throughout this year, truly a horticultural annus mirabilis. Now for the next 25!", says Jim Buckland, Gardens Manager.
The transformation of West Dean into award-winning gardens, in the wake of the Great Storms of 1987, has seen tremendous changes which have brought the gardens international respect for both the quality and variety of horticultural practice.
An exhibition charting the past 25 years in the gardens through archive photographs and commentary by Jim, has attracted visitors from around the world including Australia, Belgium, France, Italy, Bavaria, Malaysia, New Zealand, India, Finland, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Switzerland, USA (Oregon, Maine, New York), Northern Ireland, Wales and the Shetland Isles.
"What care has been given to this wonderful place. The greenhouses are to die for!" Monica Tary Stuart, Vancouver Island, Canada.
In August, BBC Radio 4 Gardener's Question Time recorded a special festival programme before a live studio audience at the gardens' annual Chilli Fiesta, featuring Sarah, Gardens Supervisor and chilli growing expert. The family-friendly festival attracted almost 25,000 visitors and pre-event ticket sales smashed the target by 143 per cent.
Had an excellent day at the #chillifiesta in beautiful @westdeangardens… Certainly a HOT day! said @Sarahtheatrefan on Twitter.
"On a beautiful day what is better than a stroll around these beautiful gardens! I would also definitely recommend the chilli fiesta, well organised, good atmosphere, good food, good music and lots of stalls and things to look at or just relax on the picnic blanket soaking up the atmosphere and sun," says a gardens visitor online.
West Dean Gardens are open to the public until 23 December when they will close for the winter period and reopen on 3 February 2017. The 240-acre parkland and St. Roche's Arboretum, with its fine collection of trees, offers the opportunity for a brisk winter walk, including a two-and-a-half mile circular walk with breathtaking views of the South Downs.
Highlights include; a 300-foot Edwardian Pergola designed by Harold Peto; an award-winning Sunken Garden; a fruit collection of 100 varieties of apples including many heritage varieties; a Spring, Wild and Woodland garden.
It takes £40,000 to complete a full restoration to bring a Victorian glasshouse back to life and preserve it for the next 25 years and beyond. For more information and to donate to the ongoing Save the Glasshouses appeal online visit www.westdeangardens.org.uk/appeal.
Notes to editors