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

Circles South East Youth Service: Youth Services Volunteer

this is an unpaid voluntary position: Circles South East Youth Service: LOOKIN...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - OTE £30,000+

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading privately owned sp...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is require...

Recruitment Genius: Logistics Supervisor

£24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest supplier to the UK'...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn