ISSUE 81  |  Weekend Getaway

The Ultimate UK Getaway: 1 Hour From London, But a World Away at Gravetye Manor

July 15, 2013 10:00 AM

BY Kendra Wilson

For those of us who crave an English arcadia with the prospect of high tea, Gravetye Manor in West Sussex (one hour away from London by train) would be a fine choice. For garden historians, this Jacobean manor, nestled in a 1,000-acre estate, is pretty near the center of the universe.

Photographs courtesy of Gravetye Manor.

Above: Gravetye Manor, in the middle of West Sussex, is surrounded by other glorious gardens and historic houses and is a good base from which to visit the opera at Glyndebourne. Visit Gravetye Manor for details on surrounding attractions or to book one of the 17 rooms available for guests.

Above: York paving divides the double borders at Gravetye.

Before Gertrude Jekyll, there was William Robinson, a Victorian iconoclast who invented the idea of the “wild garden.” He rejected the formality of labor-intensive seasonal bedding and developed his naturalistic approach at Gravetye Manor.

Above: A view framed by an arch at Gravetye.

William Robinson was a trained gardener who made his fortune through garden writing, and his ideas are as relevant today as they were at the turn of the 20th century. His seminal book The English Flower Garden ($14.18 from Amazon), entices with chapters like “The Evils of Bedding and Carpet Gardening.”

Above: Robinson felt that formal beds and borders were too restrictive and that less showy plants could be grown in wilder areas further from the house. Naturalizing bulbs in an orchard is a classic Robinson idea.

Above: Gravetye has been a hotel since the 1950s, but the gardens suffered some neglect in the latter years before new ownership. They are now undergoing a massive bindweed-eradication program under head gardener Tom Coward.

Above: A view of Gravetye from the garden. Tom Coward has his hands full revitalizing the planting here. He is more interested in restoring the ethos of William Robinson than in recreating original planting plans.

Coward trained under Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter and is perfectly poised to breathe new life into the Gravetye gardens. William Robinson’s ideas would certainly have influenced the development of the gardens at Great Dixter, which could be labeled “Robinsonian.” So the appointment of Tom Coward has been holistic and joyous, even.

Above: Pergolas and other structural features such as the original glasshouses are undergoing restoration.

Above: The walled garden, in which Coward plans to grow a plentiful supply of food and flowers for the Manor.

Is wild gardening your style? See Gone Wild: Tinkering with Turf.