On a damp and rainy Thursday 24th May, I had the privilege to visit Leonardslee Gardens as part of the spring press preview. To step back into the gardens was truly magical. I last visited these gardens in 2010, just before the estate was put up for sale.
The gardens are now owned by Penny Streeter, who runs the 400 acre Mannings Heath Golf Course and Wine Estate, situated just up the road from Leonardslee.
Since buying the estate, Penny has used the experience and knowledge of head gardener Lee Meredith to bring the gardens back to life. Lee headed up a team of 20 gardeners to achieve this monumental task, the like of which has not been since Heligan in the 1990s.
Their work has included cataloguing and tracing the history of nearly 10,000 trees and shrubs. There are 95 champion trees discovered so far which includes Abies Nebrodensis. The gardens are Grade 1 listed of great historical importance.
The restoration of the gardens has been particularly sensitive to being ecological in its approach, to create areas where bats, newts, butterflies and other species can survive. Nature trails have been created for children and school groups to see the wildlife at Leonardslee.
The acidic sandstone soil at Leonardslee makes for ideal growing conditions for Rhododendrons, Camellias and Magnolias. The grounds are set in a steep sided valley and feature a series of seven man-made ponds, which contain a colony of carp. The ponds were used to provide waterpower for the iron industry in the 19th century.
The grounds comprise a combination of parkland, lawn and forest land and are home to a colony of wallabies and a number of species deer.
The alpine glasshouses are also being restored.
The rock garden is without doubt one of the great features of the gardens. This is comprised of rocky outcrops featuring artificial Pulhamite rock, planted with Azaleas, dwarf Rhododendrons and dwarf Conifers.
Leonardslee is still the beautiful place that I remember and I am looking forward to the official opening later in the year. People will be thrilled and delighted to see the gardens and the hard work and dedication to bring these gardens back to life.
The gardens are scheduled to re-open in Juanuary 2019. www.leonardsleegardens.co.uk
Article by Sue Liassides.