New head gardener takes over at historic estate near Horsham

A new head gardener has been appointed for the Grade I listed Leonardslee Gardens near Horsham.

He is Stephen Herrington, former gardens and parks consultant and project manager for the National Trust.

Stephen Herrington SUS-191119-153417001

Stephen Herrington SUS-191119-153417001

He was previously head gardener at Nymans Gardens at Handcross and before that was curator of Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens at Lower Beeding are renowned for their extensive collections of rhododendrons and azaleas, along with many species of trees.

Stephen Herrington said: “I am delighted to be part of this exciting and important project, to protect and upgrade one of the finest woodland gardens in England.

“We are still discovering rare plants and have recorded 22 champion trees including the critically endangered Abies Nebrodensis (Sicilian Fir).”

Champion trees are those considered to be exceptional examples of their species because of their enormous size, great age, rarity or historical significance.

The Grade I Listed gardens are set within a steep valley in the 240 acre Leonardslee estate, and feature a series of seven interlinked lakes, originally created to power iron smelting in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Victorian plant collector Sir Edmund Loder bought the estate from his parents-in-law in 1889 and planted extensive collections of Rhododendrons and Azaleas and many species of trees, and also introduced gazelle, beavers, kangaroos and wallabies.

The gardens were sold by the Loder family and closed to the public in 2010. No further maintenance work was carried out until entrepreneur Penny Streeter bought the site in 2017.

Since then extensive restoration work has been carried out with a team of some 30 gardeners. The gardens re-opened to the public in April this year.

Leonardslee attracts visitors internationally to see its outstanding plant displays with many rare specimens collected from all over the world by the Loder family. The collection includes Rhododendron Loderi Sir Edmund and Loderi King George, raised by Sir Edmund in 1901.

The gardens feature one of the first Pulham rock gardens, dating from 1890: it comprises a series of rocky outcrops which combine natural sandstone with artificial Pulhamite rock, intensively planted with azaleas, dwarf rhododendrons and conifers among other plants and trees.

Leonardslee says it ‘takes full account of the ecological sensitivity of the site in a programme that creates locations where bats, newts, butterflies and other species can thrive. This includes leaving areas of uncut grass, and log piles that serve as bug hotels, with new nature trails for children and school groups to see the diverse wildlife at Leonardslee.’