Gardens featured heavily in my childhood. Both my parents are keen gardeners, my father was even a judge at the Chelsea Flower show and pretty well every family holiday was planned with plants and gardens in mind. In 1971 the caravan was hitched up and we headed for East Grinstead and from there visited three of the garden greats in the South East; Sheffield Park, Wakehurst Place and Nymans. So when we took delivery of a new car at the weekend and wanted a suitable place to jaunt to, it seemed fitting that we headed toward Nymans in peak camellia season.
Nymans was bought by the Messel family at the end of the nineteenth century and they set about filling their garden with stunning plants, even breeding some of their own. If you see the word nymanensis in a plant name then it originated at Nymans. In 1915 the family radically altered the house to give it the appearance of a medieval stone manor house. Disaster struck in 1947 when the house burnt down. The family purchased another house nearby but continued to enjoy their beloved gardens. The house was partially rebuilt within the ruins and today has an air of a Gothic stage set about it.
Anne, Countess of Rosse, mother of Lord Snowdon, was the final Messel to call Nymans her home and the rooms have been preserved as she left them. On the sideboard in the dining room stands a very impressive Spode breakfast serving set with compartments for boiled eggs and all the other necessities of an English Breakfast. The contents of the bookshelves are much the same as my parents’ and, I suspect, any gardening enthusiast active in the middle part of the last century.
Nymans is now owned by the National Trust and so naturally has a high quality tea room. On this occasion, as Spring had sprung, we took a picnic with us and ate it on one of the many benches that are thoughtfully strewn around the gardens. If there’s one thing that I enjoy more than a cultural visit, it’s sitting down with a good book. Here the two can be combined as the old potting shed has been converted into a fine second-hand book store. I purchased ‘A Proper Family Hoilday’ by Chrissie Manby and Mr CW succumbed to ‘The Barrytown Trilogy’ by Roddy Doyle.
Handcross, near Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH17 6EB
Open daily Admission: Adult: £11.00, Child: £6.00, Family: £28.00