See also Beyond the Dolls House
Rhododendron and azalea lovers will be in 7th heaven at Leonardslee Lakes and Garden. Be sure to visit in the spring when they are in bloom. The grade I landscaped garden is famous for its rhodos and azaleas, and, at 240 acres, it is one of the largest woodland and parkland gardens in England.
There are seven lakes with wildfowl (black swans, duck, and geese), a rock garden, a collection of Bonsai, deer, and wild wallabies. Everywhere there are stunning garden and valley views. This is a ‘not to be missed’ experience.
Brief History of the Gardens
The gardens were created over a period of 200 years. The valley, with its east/west facing slopes in which Leonardslee is located, started out as ancient woodland, comprised of oak, beech, birch, larch, and Scots pine. It name comes from the word ‘lea’ which means a valley, in this case, part of St Leonard’s forest.
Unfortunately most of the ancient trees fell victim to the iron-smelting industry in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were used to make charcoal for fuel in the furnaces. Power was derived from the valley streams by damming them and creating the lakes we see today. The industry closed with the discovery of coal and iron in Wales and the forest of Dean.
Over the ensuing century some natural regeneration took place. A house was built on the land by Charles Beauclerk, the purchaser of the estate in 1801. This family began the ornamental plantings with rhododendrons and azaleas and developed walks and the pleasure grounds. In 1852 the Hubbard family purchased the estate and tore down the home to build the one still existing today. They are responsible for the name Leonardslee.
Sir Edmund Loder, a keen garden enthusiast from a family of garden developers, became Leonardslee’s owner after his marriage in 1876, acquiring the estate from his in-laws. He set about adding many plants and trees to develop the valley’s potential beauty. He also added deer, kangaroos, wallabies, and other animals in the grounds. Sir Edmund was particularly fond of rhododendrons and conifers.
Sir Giles Loder, born in 1914, took over the estate in 1945, focussing on rhododendrons and camellias. He developed the Coronation garden and the camellia grove. He retired in 1981, and the younger generation, including his son Robin, took over the running of the gardens and estate.
Around the Gardens
Entry to the gardens is through the greenhouse, then down a slope, passing a rock garden along the way. The rock garden dates from 1900. Here are azaleas, dwarf Norway spruce, palm trees, a Chinese lantern tree, and rhododendrons.
Heading along the “blue’ walk to the terrace brings valley views into focus. Plants include cherry, azaleas, specimen maple, a pocket handkerchief tree, dwarf rhododendron, and conifers are just a few of the plantings. A detour leads to the Loderi garden where several varieties of the hybrid rhododendron loderi are planted, grown to tree size. They have huge fragrant flowers. Here also are camellia, acer, a Douglas fir, and other rhododendrons.
Continuing along the ‘blue’ middle walk leads to a Tasmanian beech, a variety of rhododendrons, coast redwood, maidenhair trees (Ginkgo biloba), magnolias, holm oaks, arbutus, azaleas, Chilean firebush, gigantic wellingtonia, larch, and much more. The path leads to the Dell, but if you have time you can take a detour to the Upper Dell where there are some special rhododendrons, some 150 years old. The oldest rhododendron in the garden is located in this dell and dates from before 1810. Azaleas, oak, beech, redwood, and a snowdrop tree can be found here. One of England’s largest magnolias grows in the Upper Dell. Views over the gardens are spectacular.
The Dell is home to rhododendrons and azaleas of all sizes, colours, and varieties and during the blooming season is a site to behold. Continuing on the path leads downward to the lakes or ponds. The first is the Clapper bridge pond, then the path follows along Leucothoe pond to Middle pond. A detour crosses the ponds over to Mossy Ghyll and the Coronation garden. Along the way are swamp cypress, skunk cabbage, oak, rhododendron, and azaleas. Wildflowers grow in abundance. Carp and rudd can be spotted in Middle pond. Many species of dragonfly reside here including the emperor.
The Middle pond walk crosses the water via a bridge between it and Engine pond. Azaleas and Scots pine frequent the shoreline of this pond. Hydrangeas and maples can be seen. There are two options after viewing Engine pond: cross over to the engine house (once used for pumping water) or continue walking along to Waterfall pond which leads to the camellia grove (visit in April to see several hundred varieties in bloom) and also to the deer park. Oak and maple were planted by this pond in the 1990s. Bog myrtle and wildflowers like the damp.
From Engine pond there is another detour to a lakeside walk through the old park and pinetum. This walk is circular and returns on the other side of the valley. Sika and fallow deer roam in this area. The largest lake is in this part of the valley. Although called New pond, it is 250 years old. The path leads through woodland of beech, sweet chestnut, birch, holly, Scots pine, and oak. Other detours are the Green walk, Cox’s walk, and Falling walk, all on the near side of the lakes. Pine, oak, cedar, various shrubs, magnolias, and rhododendrons are among the plantings.
Off the courtyard is the exhibit Beyond the Dolls House, a fascinating collection of miniature scenes of a town and estate of 100 years ago. A collection of Victorian motor cars (1883-1900) are kept in running order. Don’t miss the wallabies who ‘mow’ the grass.
Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens
Lower Beeding, Horsham, West Sussex
Web: Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens
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