Wakehurst Place: Kew's country cousin is as accessible as tricky terrains come

"Ahh, I long to have flowerbeds neatly mulched like this," says my godmother, covetously, eyeing up the azaleas. We are at Wakehurst Place in Haywards Heath, Sussex, admiring the neatly kept gardens, now all kitted out for summer. We've wandered through the bluebell woods, admired the long views to distant birch plantations, and done the sums on a June wedding hosted in the Elizabethan mansion. And it's not even lunchtime.

Wakehurst is the country cousin of the Royal Botanic Gardens, playing home to its Millennium Seed Bank and a host of dramatic tree planting, but horticultural standards are, if anything, higher than at Kew itself. Wakehurst is no bumpkin in terms of facts and figures either: the land is on a long lease from the National Trust (so you can use your member's card to enter) and it's their most visited attraction annually. Yet the garden still maintains its gentle Sussex feel, with an ample car park hidden among mature trees, and plenty of paths to wander, leaving hustle and bustle behind.

Wakehurst was originally the private garden of the Loder family, a proper old Tory dynasty based in Sussex, and it was Gerald Loder who began the development of a garden there in the early years of the 20th century. Though "garden" is putting it mildly – the house has formal herbaceous borders and lawns, but then a series of lakes and dramatic rock escarpments lead downs to a much wilder, hidden valley below: rather unexpectedly Himalayan in the gentle territory of mid-Sussex.

Despite the nature of the terrain, the delights of Wakehurst are nicely accessible. When we visit, the party includes my friend Mani, who uses a wheelchair, so we're pretty relieved to find we can make our way easily to Bethlehem Wood on the map's marked yellow paths (just avoid the red ones, which may induce palpitations). There's a delicious perfume in the air: "It reminds me of the Isabella Plantation," says Mani, and it turns out it's the scent of azaleas, wafting across the haze of bluebells.

Bethlehem Wood is marvellously kept, with specimen trees widely planted to allow sunshine to fall, and bursts of colour provided by the rhododendron family. The light is still that bright-green shining through new leaves, and from afar we hear pheasants calling: a smart chock, chock call not quite sufficiently suggestive of their epic dumbness.

Wakehurst also has more formal delights: head for the mansion, and the walled Sir Henry Price garden is a jewel. The original cutting garden for the grand house, it is now planted with a series of dark tulips in mauves, pinks and lilacs, growing above purple sage, wine-coloured Sambucus and dark bronzey penstemon leaves ("Husker Red"). And now we're in an English garden at 4pm. It must be time for a cup of tea.

Wakehurst Place has a minibus tour of its estate tomorrow for those who would find it hard to walk around (kew.org). 'The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain' is available free to Blue Badge holders (accessibleguide.co.uk)

Access all areas

1. Chatsworth

This Derbyshire estate has three bookable electric scooters for the landscape garden and golf buggy tours every half-hour. And if it rains, a lift ensures everyone can see inside the upper floors of the house too. chatsworth.org

2. Eden Project

This Cornwall attraction won a 2010 Rough Guide award for accessibility, in part due to a huge team of access volunteers to help people with disabilities round the garden, and a website that lists the gradients of paths. edenproject.com

3. Stowe

Bookable golf carts make a whizz around the Palladian bridges, grottoes and temples of this huge 18th-century Buckinghamshire landscape a joy. nationaltrust.org.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US