Tour of the Pleasure Grounds – The secret Gardens of Firle Place, East Sussex

Turfed stairs, Firle place, Gardens in East Sussex‘Pleasure Ground’ is an 18th century term meaning an ‘area of cultivated lawns and ornamental planting and architecture designed for ‘traversing on foot’….

This weekend traverse on foot we did as part of the Garden Show at Firle Place, East Sussex. A unique opportunity to see the restoration project of the pleasure grounds, led by Philip Fenech, head gardener. The garden team are restoring the Pleasure Grounds in the spirit of the original ‘Cabinets de Verde’, hidden woodland glades with different planting themes in each area. The tour revealed the extent of the project; the team takes it in stages with an annual approach to re-designing each glade. Amongst the highlights were the turf steps, which form part of the Dell garden, a feature which needs regular garden maintenance, but one with great impact, particularly when surrounded by the spring bulb border, The Oriental Glade, which included a Handkerchief Tree and Wisteria trained on an umbrella structure and The Gold and Silver Glade, featuring an array of trees that produce striking blasts of colour in the garden.

Firle Place, The Lost ValleyFor us the most exciting area of the garden was The Lost Valley, a common feature of the 18th century which would have been an area rich in flora and fauna -steep sided valleys dug out by hand and planted with many species of trees, full of exotic plants, ferns and wild flowers. The valley was a surprise feature of the garden, which is exactly what the pleasure grounds aimed to create and the sun played beautifully on the planting, which led you to travel up the valley in expectation of what was to come next, areas of the Lost Valley are named around planting choices; ‘Berried Treasure’, full of shrubs and trees noted for their fruit, the ‘Betula Grove’, which includes rare and unusual birches and our personal favourite ‘The Vale of Tears’, where the banks of the valley are planted with pendulous trees and shrubs. These gardens are very rarely open to the public and we are going to make it an annual must on our garden calendar, a great opportunity to see how a garden restoration project on this scale develops. Highly recommended…

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