More than £800,000 of lottery funding to help improve Worthing’s famous Highdown Gardens have been welcomed.
The gardens were bequeathed to Worthing Borough Council by Sir Frederick Stern 50 years ago after a pioneering horticultural experiment saw him confound critics by growing a stunning garden on chalk soil.
The council wants to bring the story of the gardens to life. The cash injection will enable garden experts to catalogue, preserve and propagate the hundreds of rare species that grow on the slopes of Highdown Hill.
The old gardener’s bungalow will be remodelled and turned into a visitors’ centre, new walkways will be put in and a wheelchair accessible sensory garden will also be created.
Worthing Borough Council executive members resolved to accept the terms of the lottery grant at a meeting on Tuesday (July 9).
Edward Crouch, executive member for digital and environmental services, said he was ‘blown away by the level of love out there for these gardens’ and described the proposals as ‘quite ambitious’.
Work on the project will start next year with a finish date in 2022. The gardens will remain open for all but a few months of this time.
Sir Frederick moved to Highdown Towers, now a hotel and restaurant, in 1909 and began a project to expand and develop a garden using exotic plants brought back from places such as China and Bhutan by intrepid hunters.
Highdown was designated a National Collection in 1989 to recognise that Sir Frederick had proved something most experts told him he could not; to grow plants on terrain with just a few inches of soil above chalk.
The lottery funding will allow the council to:
• Undertake a propagation programme to save the endangered National Plant Collection (threatened by climate change, disease, visitor behaviour);
• Convert the old gardener’s bungalow into a visitor engagement centre where previously hidden stories about the Sterns, the gardens, their visitors and the plants can be told;
• Partner with the West Sussex Records Office to digitise and make freely available the important archive of Stern’s life work;
• Improve access with accessible pathways, extended opening hours and a wheelchair-accessible Sensory Garden;
• Develop new activities and resources to encourage a love and respect for this fragile environment;
• Partner with local schools, colleges, community groups and mental health charities to support volunteering, social and well-being activities in the gardens.
Executive member for health and wellbeing Val Turner described the project as ‘wonderful and absolutely brilliant’, while leader of the council Dan Humphreys added: “My family and I spend a lot of time up at Highdown Gardens and I’m really excited to see it’s going to get better and better.”