'The detail is beautiful, better than I'd hoped for'

Garden designer and writer Karen Gimson is a radio gardening expert, Rainbows Hospice Ambassador and Trustee of the Hardy Plant Society, and when she finally visited Borde Hill in Sussex, she was captivated.


I’ve been looking at pictures of Borde Hill in magazines and newspapers for years and years. It seemed so enticing; I’ve always been too busy to go but I finally got my chance this spring. It was the satisfaction of achieving a long-held ambition and finding that in real life it was as good as I had hoped – or even better!

I have a passion for trees and the rare and unusual specimens are really exciting. Many were collected by the great plant hunters of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There is a huge tulip tree, Liriodendron chinense, and it turns out that it was raised from seed collected by Ernest Wilson in central China, and bought from Veitch Nurseries in 1913. There’s also the best collection of magnolias that I have ever seen!

© 2018 Heather Edwards

© 2018 Heather Edwards

The woods are filled with rhododendrons and magnolias and the floor is carpeted with wildflowers. It’s such a peaceful, beautiful place. It gladdens your heart to stand among the bluebells and anemones in this ancient woodland and listen to the birdsong. Then you turn a corner and suddenly there are all these modern garden rooms, set around the Elizabethan manor house. 

It’s a real garden of contrasts and the garden rooms are exquisite, like something from RHS Chelsea Flower Show. There is a Paradise Walk, designed by James Alexander-Sinclair, a garden full of David Austin roses and an Italian terrace garden with a formal pool.

The determination to make a garden and make it really excellent was inspiring. The exotic garden, designed by Sophie Walker, is in a really tricky spot on the site of a former quarry. It contains specimens of schefflera, discovered by modern day plant hunters, which neatly unites the past with the future.

I discovered a beautiful Itoh peony there and I came straight home and planted it in my own garden! The detail at Borde Hill is beautiful. You are there, wandering around and gazing at the wider landscape, and then you focus on the immediate and suddenly find something special right at your feet.

Words: Naomi Slade

Borde Hill Garden, Borde Hill Lane, Haywards Heath RH16 1XP

Tel: 01444 450326

Visit www.bordehill.co.uk for more information. Open for the NGS on 30th September