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Volunteers, visitors and special guests gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Worthing Borough Council taking over world-famous Highdown Gardens.
At a special ceremony on Monday (19th February 2018) the Mayor of Worthing, Cllr Alex Harman unveiled a plaque on a bench in the Millennium Garden section of Highdown to commemorate the hand-over.
“I am proud that our predecessors took on the challenge of preserving the legacy of this magnificent garden and want to pay tribute to all the head gardeners, staff and volunteers who have ensured that it remains a jewel in our crown,” he said.
Fifty years ago on Monday Lady Sybil Stern handed over the gardens on the wishes of her late husband, Sir Frederick.
The Sterns created the world's first chalk garden high up on Highdown Hill at the beginning of the 20th Century. Sir Frederick sponsored swashbuckling plant hunting expeditions to China and the Far East to bring back exotic plants which thrived on the chalk and are still there today.
Sir Frederick, who died in 1967, stipulated that the Council should look after the gardens using his famous book A Chalk Garden as a reference and ever since then a succession of head gardeners and their staff have been dedicated to keeping his legacy alive.
The Mayor made special mention of the head gardeners who worked for the Borough Council to keep the gardens as Sir Frederick planned them.
The first municipal head gardener was John Bassingdale followed by Ron Read, Chris Beardsley, Jo Hooper and Gary Prescod. Mr Bassingdale's daughter Mary-Anne Hedges who lived in the current gardener's bungalow and who still volunteers at Highdown was present for the unveiling.
Worthing Borough Council Executive Member for the Environment, Cllr Diane Guest, said:
“Highdown is such an important garden and is one of the only such places owned and maintained by a local authority.”
“I think we have just reason for pride that we have keep Sir Frederick's legacy alive and well for the last 50 years.”
Highdown was horticulturally important in the first half of the 20th Century because Sir Frederick grew exotic plants from around the world on soil thought inhospitable to any growth.
Under the Borough Council the gardens have been designated a National Collection and have been awarded a Green Flag.
See also: Millenium Garden
Photo: Jo Hooper, Highdown Gardens manager, and mayor Alex Harman on the new bench in the Millenium Garden, with staff, volunteers and councillors
Worthing's world-famous gardens at Highdown have received a major boost with the award of Lottery funding to help preserve their future.
The gardens, internationally important because they are home to hundreds of rare and exotic plants and trees uniquely grown on chalk soil, are visited by tens of thousands of people every year.
Worthing Borough Council, which owns and maintains the gardens, has now successfully applied for Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) money to develop a long-term survival plan for the landmark which is open free to the public.
The Fund has awarded almost £100,000 to the Council to develop a new plan for the 8.5 acre-gardens which will include;
Action to preserve plants which could be crucial to stopping extremely rare specimens becoming extinct
The establishment of breeding processes to ensure the survival of the rare plants.
The building of a new visitor centre to tell the story of the gardens and its surrounding landscape
Plans to tell the fascinating story of the originator of the gardens, Sir Frederick Stern, and his contribution to worldwide horticulture
Proposals to develop community ownership of the gardens through a full volunteer programme
Worthing Borough Council's Executive Member for the Environment, Cllr Diane Guest, said:
“I'm delighted to hear about the award of HLF Stage One money. Highdown Gardens is a jewel in our crown and I think the Council can be justifiably proud of our work keeping Sir Frederick Stern's legacy intact.”
“However this money will allow us to develop a plan which will preserve the future of Highdown, its important plant collection and increase enjoyment for the tens of thousands of visitors who enjoy the gardens every year.”
Highdown was designated a National Collection in 1989 to recognise that Sir Frederick had proved something most experts told him he could not; to grow plants on terrain with just a few inches of soil above chalk. Chalky soils are notoriously difficult to grow on.
Sir Frederick moved to Highdown Towers, now a hotel and restaurant, in 1909 and began a project to expand and develop a garden using exotic plants brought back from places such as China and Bhutan by intrepid hunters.
He left the gardens to the Council after his death in 1967. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the Council taking ownership. Now the authority wants to bring the story of the gardens to life and begin plans to create an archive of all materials, letters and, plant records concerning Stern's project for the use of garden researchers and visitors.
Plans are also being developed to catalogue the number of different species in the garden, protect the valuable plants from damage, improve disabled access, extend opening hours in the summer, rebuild the greenhouses and provide interactive displays for families.
The Council now has a year to bring together more research and costing for the projects, involve partners and then submit a full second round application for the full cost of the scheme.
Attached: artist's impression of what the new visitor centre might look like
Did you enter a photo and vote in our 'Take Highdown Home' Competition, part of the Highdown 50 celebrations?
Head Gardener Gary Prescod and the Highdown Gardens Team shortlisted four amazing images:
- The way up to Highdown Gardens, Ray Kernan
- Cherry Blossom, Katie Wade
- Trunks & Climbers, Robert Sharp
- Happy Tree Stump, Sarah Nelson
These went to public vote on our Facebook album and there were two clear winners.
First prize goes to 'Cherry Blossom' by Katie Wade, who has won a selection of FOUR plants selected by Gary from Highdown Gardens.
The Runner up is 'Happy Tree Stump' by Sarah Nelson, who has won a selection of THREE plants from Highdown Gardens.
The Mayor of Worthing has commemorated a remarkable man who left an amazing legacy to the people of Worthing.
Councillor Alex Harman paid a fitting tribute by planting a tree at the town's magnificent Highdown Gardens to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Frederick Stern, the pioneering horticulturalist who created them.
The Gardens, which are considered to be a hidden gem, nestle in just six inches of soil high in the chalk above Worthing and are so important they have been designated a National Collection because of their rare trees and plants.
After he died in 1967, Sir Frederick's widow handed Highdown to the then town council to preserve for the enjoyment of residents for years to come.
The Gardens are now owned and cared for by Worthing Borough Council, which is bidding for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of more than £900,000 to safeguard Highdown's future.
Members of the Friends of Highdown - volunteers who help to maintain the stunning gardens - joined the Mayor for the tree-planting ceremony along with other representatives from the Council.
The guests were also treated to a preview of scenes from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream by the Rainbow Theatre company, which today (Tuesday 11th July 2017) starts six days of open-air public performances of the popular play at the gardens.
The Mayor described how Sir Frederick originally began trialling plants at Highdown, where he lived, to shield tennis players from the glare of the chalk cliff. He said:
“The tennis court was soon forgotten and Stern directed his energies into the creation of one of the most beautiful and unusual gardens in the south of England.”
Councillor Harman added:
“I am extremely proud that this council has taken on the responsibility of preserving the legacy of this magical place and keeping it open and free to use for members of the public.”
Highdown50 continues next year when the gardens will mark a second 50th anniversary - that of Sir Frederick's widow, Lady Sybil, handing over the gardens to the people of Worthing.
Photo: The Mayor of Worthing, Councillor Alex Harman, plants the tree watched by Highdown's Interim Head Gardener Gary Prescod and Mark Bodicoat, as Bottom from A Midsummer Night's Dream
Photos: Members of Rainbow Theatre perform scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream ahead of the tree-planting ceremony
See also: Open air performances
19th June 2017: Public urged to support 'the jewel in the crown' as Highdown Gardens marks 50 years in public ownership
The public is today being urged to show support for Highdown Gardens as a 'jewel in the crown' of Worthing's cultural offer.
Worthing Borough Council is embarking on a major bid to secure the future of the world-famous gardens by applying for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of more than £900,000.
And today the council's executive member for the environment Diane Guest urged the public to get behind the bid. She said:
“Highdown is a very special place and we want to invest in it to safeguard the future. The more people we can get on board to support this bid the better our chances.”
She made the call as the nationally important gardens, nestling high above the town, prepares for two special 50th anniversary landmarks.
The gardens, on Highdown Hill are owned and run by the council which keeps them free for visitors and has launched Highdown50 to publicise the importance of the place in local and national history.
The gardens are also of worldwide scientific importance and have been designated a National Plant Collection.
July 10 this year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Frederick Stern the creator of the gardens, who lived in next door at Highdown Towers now a hotel and restaurant.
And in February the following year in the 50th anniversary of the gardens being handed to the people of the town by Sir Frederick's widow Lady Sybil. The Borough Council has cared for the gardens ever since.
Today the council's executive member for the environment Cllr Diane Guest praised the attraction and lauded its place in the life of the borough. She said:
“I am always inspired whenever I go up there”
“There's such a variety of fantastic plants, trees and other species from all around the world, all with a great story to tell and all of national importance.”
“I am extremely proud of our role in keeping these gardens in their splendid state and of course on this anniversary we acknowledge the vision and the passion of Sir Frederick and Lady Sybil in defying the odds to make this garden the jewel it is.”
The gardens are a spectacular highlight of counter intuitive horticulture. Sir Frederick's legacy was to prove that a whole range of plant species could still thrive in chalk downs. Just six inches of loam sits above the chalk face of Highdown Hill but many unique species now thrive there.
A special tree planting and plaque unveiling will take place on July 10 to mark the anniversary of Sir Frederick's death.
Interim Head Gardener Gary Prescod said:
“It's a great job working up here. The gardens give so much pleasure to so many different people, old and young alike. I always get people coming up to me asking questions about the important species we have here.”
The Heritage Lottery Bid if successful will help enhance the visitor experience at the gardens and help safeguard the nationally important collection of species.
Plans might include making the gardens more accessible for the disabled, improving the plant propagation facilities and converting the on-site gardeners' bungalow into a visitor centre. A public consultation might bring forward other ideas.
A HLF bid last year was narrowly unsuccessful but the fund has encouraged the council to bid again on the strength of the project. This project will build on recent provision of interpretation trails and leaflets at Highdown Gardens, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and installed earlier this year.
Members of the public are being asked to answer a special questionnaire on the Highdown website which will be used in framing the bid.
Deadline for views is 14th August 2017.
Winner of Plumpton College Top Horticulture Apprentice of the Year award
The award winning Highdown Gardens in Worthing, received more good news this week. Their very first apprentice, Sam Dexter (21, of Worthing) has won the coveted Plumpton College Top Horticulture Apprentice of the Year award.
This news comes in the same week that Highdown Gardens won, for the second year running, a TripAdvisor Certificate for Excellence.
Jo Hooper, Highdown Gardens Manager and Head Gardener, adds:
“Sam is studying towards a Level 2 Work Based Diploma in Horticulture at Plumpton College. We are extremely proud of Sam who has put an enormous amount of work into his studies and contributed greatly towards the upkeep of Highdown Gardens. Sam started with us in February 2015 and is due to complete his apprenticeship in May next year. He has a very bright future in horticulture ahead of him and the award is very well deserved.”
Sam Dexter says:
“I have enjoyed my experience here at Highdown Gardens and have learnt a great deal, from identifying plants to general maintenance tasks. Plumpton College has offered me the chance to enhance my practical knowledge with theory and research. I feel the apprenticeship has given me a good basis to progress through the industry. I would recommend doing an apprenticeship to anyone who is interested in following a career in horticulture and I'd like to thank the Council for the opportunity.”
Councillor Clive Roberts, Worthing Borough Council Executive Member for Environment, adds:
“Many congratulations to Sam. He is an important part of this award winning Garden and a shining example of the many young people in Worthing who are benefiting from Apprenticeships. Jo and her team have done a great job of sharing their wide breadth of knowledge with Sam, and in turn have helped this talented horticulturist maintain the high standards Highdown already enjoys, for a long time to come.”
Highdown will be recruiting for a new horticultural apprentice early next year, please keep an eye on the gov.uk apprenticeship website for details.
We have added a number of new webpages covering all areas of our website and have updated other pages. They have been linked together to form a 'virtual tour' of the Gardens that you can follow and we have improved the map of the Gardens as well.
You can see the tour of the Gardens and map, or visit our new (or updated) webpages:
- The main path into the Gardens (information board, noticeboard, greenhouse, potting shed, Herb Garden, cold frames and Avenue of Cherry Trees) - new webpage
- The Old Orchard - new webpage
- Millennium Garden - webpage updated
- The Chalk Pit Garden - new webpage
- Hellebore Bank - new webpage
- The Rose Garden, Lower Rose Garden and Paper Bark Maple - new webpage
- The Beech Wood - webpage updated
- The Middle Garden - The Tree and Shrub Garden - new webpage
- The Lower Garden - The Herbaceous Garden, South Boundary and Rose Walk pergola - new webpage
- Bike park and picnic area - new items and webpage updated
Highdown Gardens have been awarded the South & South East in Bloom 'Silver Gilt' award and also the coveted 'Judges Award'.
For full details see:
This year a record breaking 1,582 parks and green spaces were awarded the prestigious, international Green Flag Award 2015. We are very proud to announce that Highdown Gardens was amongst the award winners.
In additional, the annual People's Choice award is now open - giving local residents the chance to vote for the best in the whole of the UK
To vote, simply go to the Green Flag Award website using the relevant link(s) below and click the 'vote for this site' button. You do not have to register or submit any personal details.
The public vote is now open and will close at noon on Wednesday 30th September 2015.
The winner of the People's Choice award will be announced in October 2015.
If you love Highdown Gardens please vote for us, every vote counts!
For full details see:
We hope you like our new look website - please let us know what you think.
If you feel anything else could be changed or added to help improve it please contact us.