When we decided to visit Wakehurst Botanical Gardens, there was an element of confusion as we arrived. Being National Trust members, we expected to see the ubiquitous oak leaf symbol, but were somewhat surprised to find instead, signs for Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.
Yes, interestingly Wakehurst is owned by The National Trust, yet funded and managed by Kew. So rather fabulously you get the best of both.
Wakehurst can be best described as Royal Botanical Garden Kew’s countryside sister – but apart from the usual attractions you’d expect, such as an Elizabethan House steeped in history, stunning gardens, varied landscapes and acres of woodland to explore, it is also home to the Millennium Seed Bank. Opened in 2000, the MSB is an international conservation project – its mission? To conserve 25 per cent of the world’s plant species by 2020.
MSB scientists work with partners in more than 95 countries around the world. Where possible, collections of seeds stored at Wakehurst are duplicated in seed banks in the country where they were collected, too.
Impressive as this conservation work is, and as much as I wanted to go and discover more in the MSB exhibition, Monkey was more interested in finding ice cream, and running about. And at Wakehurst there is plenty to entertain youngsters.
From organised activities such as tree climbing and crafts, as well as outdoor family theatre shows throughout the year (check Wakehurt’s events diary), there are plenty of woodland trails, and seven outdoor play spaces – including a labyrinth, totem poles and a log trail.
Monkey was given a passport at the entrance and set the challenge of finding a bronze seed capsule, hidden in each of the play areas.
We scoped the map out to find out where they were all situated and the great thing is they are all quite spread apart which means you do have to wander the grounds extensively. We found pretty much most of them…
His favourite by far though was the Children’s Heritage Garden, which not only has a giant pumpkin and wildflower meadow, as well as a bug hotel, but he also got to get mucky in the mud kitchen. Mixing up slimy concoctions and commandeering a wheel barrow, he was in playtime heaven.
From the Heritage Garden you can wander through the Walled Garden – and at this time of year it is bursting with the most vibrant colours and the air is rich with floral scent. I found it hard to tear myself away from this beautiful space. The exquisite planting of different perennials, roses and shrubs gave me such inspiration for my own garden and I’m not all green-fingered.
Walking past the 14 Century Mansion and its imposing Tudor facade, you can cut across the manicured lawns to the Mansion pond which is teaming with wildlife. It is a popular picnic spot which is why I think the resident ducks were rather persistent in following Monkey.
Leaving the pond and its impressive new borders, we took a path leading to the interconnecting water gardens. But stopping first at the sundial which fascinated Monkey and lead to us trying to decipher the time.
The water gardens are breathtaking. On a sunny day such as ours, the trickle of water and the breeze through the willows really made this a picture perfect scene.
From here, we made our way to the Asian Heath Garden, passing the glorious Japanese Maple Trees – so resplendent in hues of deep auburn and reds. The Heath Garden, was created by Tony Schilling, who wanted to mimic the high Himalayan mountains. And it was fascinating to read all the different species of plants from all over Asia. I couldn’t pronounce any of them mind, but nevertheless, I gave it a good go!
After wandering through the woodland area to discover more of the children’s play activities, we definitely felt it was time for some refreshments and Wakehurst has a several cafes and restaurants. We opted for The Seed Cafe, close to the house which serves all manner of delicious treats.
During a family conversation scoffing cake and tea, we all agreed that we had to come back again, because we felt there was still so much to see – not least the MSB exhibition and glasshouses. But, by this point, the children were tired, and we were surprised to find that the Gardens were soon to close for the day.
We really did enjoy ourselves at Wakehurst – or as it’s also known as, Kew in the country. Dare I say, it’s not as busy as its sister in London, or as spread out. But it still has the same charm and an abundance of plant life that is such a joy to experience. This won’t be the last time we’ll be visiting…
* Wakehurst, Ardingly, Haywards Heath, Sussex, RH17 6TN Entrance: Adult, £12.50; Children under 16, Free; Parking Charges do apply
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