April 2018 - Nymans
Originally created by wealthy stockbroker Ludwig Messel and his notable head gardener James Comber from the 1860s onwards, the gardens at Nymans were further expanded and developed by Ludwig’s son Leonard and then by his granddaughter Anne, Countess of Rosse, before being given to the National Trust in 1954. Today the garden is rightly considered to contain one of the finest woody plant collections in England and includes many original introductions, some collected in the wild by James Comber’s son Harold as well as approximately 40 home-bred varieties. Within the latter, two gems shine out, Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ which produces beautiful star-shaped pink flowers in April and Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ a stunning tall summer-flowering shrub that fills the air with sweet fragrance accompanied by the soporific drone of nectar-collecting bees in August and September.
The collection covers almost the entire 30 acre (12 hectare) site, but it is beautifully structured and set within a multitude of garden landscapes including flowing serpentine-edged lawns, island beds, garden ‘rooms’ contained by evergreen hedges and well-maintained borders. Despite the breadth of the collection, the garden does not feel overcrowded and there is all important space to stand back and enjoy the form and positioning of each individual plant. This is perhaps not entirely due to intelligent foresight by the family and latterly the National Trust, as the Great Storm of 1987 did much to weed out over-mature specimens and open up vistas, nonetheless it is good to see that the Trust has resisted the temptation to fill every gap with young plants.
The original Messel features still in existence include a pinetum, a sunken garden with stone loggia bedecked in wisteria, a laurel walk, a rose garden, a walled garden and magnificent herbaceous borders - which are full of colour from June until October. In recent years Messel’s extensive heather garden and rockery has been completely revamped and is establishing well, as can be seen from the mound above the croquet lawn. Japanese influences within this part of the garden include stone lanterns acquired from the Japan-British Exhibition of 1910 and a recently planted collection of ‘Wilson’s Fifty’, a collection of Kurume azaleas selected by the plant collector in Japan in 1918. A modern nod in the direction of this great man can be found in the young grove of his most famous plant introduction, the pocket handkerchief tree Davidia involucrata, recently planted by Alastair Buchanan, a descendent of Ludwig Messel.