The first signs of spring: snowdrops at West Dean Gardens
West Dean Gardens, Near Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 ORX
It may still officially be winter but it is a good time to get out on a crisp sunny day to enjoy the displays of snowdrops, the harbinger of spring, at West Dean. The award-winning gardens re-open on 3 February after the winter closure. The gardens are open in support of the National Gardens Scheme’s Snowdrop Festival on Sunday 5 February (9am – 4pm). More than 80 gardens will open their gates during February to mark the imminent change of season and in support of charitable causes. Over 500,000 spring bulbs have been naturalised in the gardens and arboretum at West Dean, not only snowdrops but also Narcissi, Scilla, Lilies, Anenome, Muscari, Allium, Chinodoxia, Fritilleria, Crocus and Cyclamen.
The gardens are listed Grade II on the English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. The many historic features include a 300-foot Edwardian pergola designed by Harold Peto, 13 Victorian glasshouses in the Walled Kitchen Garden and the 49-acre St Roche’s Arboretum, offering access to a fine historic collection of trees including Californian Redwoods planted in 1992 and already 30 feet high. From here a 2.5 mile circular walk presents breathtaking views of the South Downs landscape and the flint brick West Dean College.
The Spring Garden features 1820’s flint and stonework which were virtually lost in encroaching vegetation until restoration in recent years. The area derives special character from the River Lavant and small tributary, a ‘winterbourne’ with intermittent seasonal watercourse whose flow is governed by the recharging of the chalk aquifers by rainfall.
The Wild Garden at the most westerly end of the garden contains areas of woodland garden, dry gravel garden a naturalistic pond and extensive flowering meadows with captivating views out into to the serene parkland.
The Woodland Garden, historically part of the woodland shelterbelt offering protection from prevailing westerly winds, with most of the tree cover lost in the Great Storms of 1987 has been restored as homage to Beth Chatto’s dry garden.
The Gardens Restaurant overlooks the beautiful Lavant valley and parkland with the River Lavant running alongside. Built in the local brick and flint, the licensed restaurant features a large terrace where visitors can enjoy refreshments whilst admiring the views. Early morning walkers and cyclists can take a well-earned break and enjoy a Full English or Continental-style breakfast which is offered at the weekend and on Bank Holidays from 9am. The adjoining shop is the perfect place to pick up a unique gift or a plant to take home.
Become a Friend of West Dean and benefit from free access to the gardens year-round (except during major events). For opening times and prices visit www.westdeangardens.org.uk.
Free car parking is available at West Dean Gardens. Dogs on a short lead are welcome.