20 members of Ferring Conservation Group visited Highdown Gardens for a guided tour led by head gardener, Gary Pescod.
The group first visited the Old Orchard area which has been planted with shrubs and trees with ornamental berries such as viburnum, euonymus and sorbus as well as some of the original fruit trees including cherries and walnuts.
Here, they encountered the first of many fragrant lilacs and an unusual horsechestnut. This area had been cultivated for potatoes and other vegetables during the war.
Passing through the avenue of Himalayan birch bark cherry trees, with their distinctive, red, peeling bark, the members walked down into the Chalk Pit garden where cascades of shrubs clothe the original sides of the chalk pit. Here they saw the extraordinary Handkerchief tree, Davidia involucrata, with its distinctive white bracts. Close by was the Bamboo Pond which is home to frogs, newts, toads and dragonflies. There was also another pond full of Koi carp which extends into a cave where a disused lime kiln was discovered.
The members were then shown the Tree and Shrub garden which is a mass of blossom at this time of the year including Persian Lilac with its fragrant purple panicles. There are two magnificent, weeping, Chinese hornbeams one of which was planted by Queen Mary in 1937. Lower down, in the Herbaceous garden, they admired the bearded irises and many tree peonies with their bold foliage and showy blooms in red, pink, white and yellow.
Highdown Gardens was created in an old chalk pit where chalk had been extracted to make lime to spread on farmer’s fields to improve fertility. The estate was acquired in 1909 by Frederick Stern who had inherited a fortune from the family banking business. He had been a big game hunter in his youth but the experiences of the First World War affected him deeply and so he turned to the more peaceful pursuits of horticulture. He married Sybil Lucas in 1919 and she shared his passion for gardening.
He obtained plants from all parts of the globe, especially China, as this was an age of exploration and the collection of botanical specimens. Botanists, such as Ernest Wilson, supplied Highdown with trees like the Paper Bark Maple in the Rose garden and the yellow poppy, Meconopsis integrifolia. When Sir Frederick died in 1937, the gardens were left to Worthing Borough Council ‘for the people of the town to enjoy in perpetuity’. The Gardens are recognised as the ‘National Collection of the Plant Introductions of Sir Frederick Stern’ and are visited by plant enthusiasts from all over the world.
Two days after the garden visit, more than 40 members attended the first beach clean of the year and armed with litter pickers and black sacks they worked their way along the beach from the Bluebird Café to the end of Sea Lane. The usual type of litter was found but the beach was relatively clean in comparison to previous years and hopefully this trend will continue.
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