I was promised a picture-perfect display of glorious colour, a sensual overload and a vibrant experience in one of the loveliest gardens in Sussex. And that is just what I had.
From March to June, the 100-year-old majestic rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and towering magnolias with which Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens are planted, offer a late spring experience like no other.
Jewel-coloured rhododendrons light up the woodland against a backdrop of red and green acers whose leaves re just beginning to take on their summer colouring. Many more are reflected in the waters of the 7 lakes that dot the woodland, doubling the colour and the display. I hadn’t realized how highly perfumed rhododendrons were, until my walk through the landscape of Leonardslee. One path that was lined with blowsy, yellow rhodos was a sheer delight and the scent almost overwhelmed.
It’s not only about flowers and trees though, hidden among the 240 acre woodland gardens is an exquisite Rock Garden with mini waterfall, ferns and the makings of a fairy-glen. And just off the main walkway is the enclosure for the resident wallabies whose interest in their visitors, charms everyone Not all the wallabies are in enclosures, only those needing protection – some of the younger joeys and the pregnant ones – so you may have a close-up encounter with a friendly wallaby as you amble round the park.
The sculptures, strategically placed to attract your attention, seem to be an organic part of the whole so easily do they sit among the flowers and trees. All of them demand time to look and ponder – and wonder at the quotations that accompany them. The current exhibition, The Walk of Life, is by South African Anton Smit and is a wonderful complement to the display of colour, the calmness of the lakes, and the birdlife.
Some of the plants at Leonardslee are extremely rare and the gardens are a living example of successful biodiversity. Nearly 200 rare and endangered plants are grown here by a dedicated team of gardeners.
The colour and vibrancy of the blossom is echoed in the birdsong that is a constant as you walk along the pathways or sit by the lakes and you’ll spot a vast variety of birds and animals even without trying, from green woodpeckers to electric blue kingfishers, yellow wagtails, peacocks, blue tits, Canada Geese and herons who congregate at the shallow lakeside where carp feed on the surface. You may also meet some of the shy fallow deer, a cheeky squirrel or two, and, of course, the wallabies, brown and white.
The Grade l listed gardens are at their vibrant best at the moment, and with plenty of seating dotted around the lakes and on the lawns, it is a perfect time to indulge in a day out.
Go earlier in the year for the daffodils and the bluebells and to walk through the camellia grove with its hundreds of varieties of camellias,or early April to see the magnificent magnolias bloom. Whatever time of the year you visit, you’ll find something to please and a restful area to commune with nature.
And when it’s time for tea, you’ll find Leonardslee Tea Shop all you could hope for, with seasonal delights, home made biscuits, locally sourced food, cream teas with warm home-made scones. What more could you wish for.
Except maybe to spend the night in the fabulous Leonardslee House Hotel.