Highdown Gardens Guided Tour

Weekly Guided Tours

Date: Every Tuesday

Price of tour: £5pp Exclusive introductory offer for June and July! £7pp from August. Children under 12 go free. 

Time11:00 – 12:00

Please arrive at Highdown Gardens Visitor Centre 5 minutes before the start time of your tour where your guide will great you.


Highdown Gardens offers weekly guided tours every Tuesday:

A unique chance to discover Highdown Gardens’ rich heritage, learn about the garden’s origins, its creators and VIP visitors, as well as spot the garden’s seasonal star plants.

These tours are delivered by Highdown staff and Tour Guide Volunteers.

All proceeds go back into Highdown Gardens Trust, focusing on preservation, education and recreation, providing a legacy for future generations.


You can now turn up on the day and make a card payment for your tour (upon availability)

To secure your place, we strongly advise you to pre book your tickets through our Bookings Page

Highdown Gardens are free to enter as per usual.


Highdown Gardens Guided Tour

The seaweed soaking in the buckets

“Collected on the coast – Brewed on the hill” The making of Highdown Gardens Seaweed Tea

“Collected on the coast – Brewed on the hill”
The making of Highdown Gardens Seaweed Tea

Have you seen the movie The Field, starring Richard Harris? It’s the story of a struggle over a field, transformed over generations from a rugged clifftop area into a fertile pasture abundant with crops, by improving the soil with seaweed hauled up from the beach below.

Hi, I’m Toby, a Craft Gardener up at Highdown, and I began my own exploration into the benefits of Seaweed Tea at the end of January this year.

After previously chatting with my colleague Rob, leader of the Foreshore team, and then completing the necessary Risk Assessments, I was clear to start gathering the dried seaweed on the high tide line of our shingle beach.

In about an hour I had filled two bulk bags half full (one full bag being too heavy to lift safely, thank you Risk Assessment) I loaded them into my car, then drove up the hill to work and to start brewing.

Collecting seaweed on the beach

Collected seaweed
I put the seaweed into 12 large old plastic plant pots and then into four household wheelie bins, I’d got from my colleagues in the Refuse Department. Then, with a hose, filled the bins halfway with water to cover the seaweed buckets. Then I had a cup of tea (not seaweed) and waited. Hoping for the magic to happen and have the brew ready for the new growing season starting in spring.

The seaweed soaking in the buckets

The benefits of Seaweed Tea are numerous, as Monty Don often extols on Gardeners World, so I’ve been very interested to discover more about this natural resource, we’re lucky to have on our doorstep.

Long before commercial fertiliser production, seaweed had been used to aid plant growth. Providing many benefits to plants way beyond the capabilities of artificial fertilisers.

It promotes stronger, healthier plants which are better able to cope with environmental stresses, including flooding, drought, salinity, pests and diseases.

No doubt, it’s a tool all gardeners should have up their sleeve.

After 12 weeks’ fermentation, as April drew to a close and May brought warmer weather, so the brew was ready. I removed the buckets and drained off the pale green liquid and smelt the strong healthy odour which gave a reassuring nose of goodness, then poured and stored it into an old water butt.

Once a week since, I’ve been diluting the tea, one-part seaweed to ten water, then feeding all the new plantings I’d introduced to the garden, including annuals, herbaceous perennials, woody shrubs and trees.

But how would I really know if the seaweed tea has increased their health and vigour? As I wondered what to do with the free seeds supplied with the Gardeners World magazine, the idea came to me. Sow the basil, parsley, lettuce and Zinnia seeds and when they’ve germinated pot them up into two identical groups, feeding one with the Seaweed Tea and a control sample fed only with water.

So, on 15th June 2022 the two samples look similar, but what will the results show in three months’ time? Hopefully, the proof will be in the brew…

Photo: Growing experiment – plants fed with only water

Growing experiment - plants fed with only water

Photo: Growing experiment – plants fed with seaweed tea

Growing experiment - plants fed with seaweed tea

Note from the Worthing Coastal Office: What Toby from Highdown Gardens is doing is very small scale and a pilot scheme for exploiting ways to potentially utilize and deal with any large seaweed deposits in the future. As it stands, so long as the seaweed is for personal use, floating and un-attached then it is ok to harvest.

Crown Estate webpage quote: Seaweed collection for personal use, in small qualities does not require a licence. However, we would recommend that anyone doing so takes account of the environmental sensitivities of collecting anything from the wild.

If you have any questions about seaweed collection please contact the Worthing Coastal Office

Orlando, Celia and Rosalind as Ganymede in As You Like It - and - Oliver Byng and Jake Snowden at Highdown (copyright Rainbow Theatre)

Rainbow Shakespeare Theater

Rainbow Shakespeare return to magical Highdown Gardens with two sparkling comedies:

As You Like it
playing from the 12th to 17th July 2022

The Merry wives of Windsor
playing from the 19th to 24th July 2022

Rainbow Theatre logoPack up your picnics, grab garden chairs, and prepare to be bewitched by Rainbow’s unique productions of understandable Shakespeare that the whole family can enjoy.

Tickets from Worthing Theatres using the link below or at the gate.

For more details and how to book tickets see the Worthing Theatres website:

Photos: Orlando, Celia and Rosalind as Ganymede in As You Like It; Oliver Byng and Jake Snowden at Highdown; and audiences enjoying plays at Highdown (photos copyright Rainbow Theatre)

Orlando, Celia and Rosalind as Ganymede in As You Like It - and - Oliver Byng and Jake Snowden at Highdown (copyright Rainbow Theatre)

Highdown audiences enjoying Taming of the Shrew (copyright Rainbow Theatre)

Highdown audiences enjoying Julius Caesar (copyright Rainbow Theatre)

Judas Tree flowers up close (credit Ellen Mascard)

Plant Focus – May 2022: Judas Tree – Cercis Siliquastrum

For this month’s Plant Focus blog Sue takes a look at the Judas Tree – Cercis Siliquastrum.

Common Name: Judas Tree
Latin Name: Cercis siliquastrum
Garden Location: Middle Garden
Country of origin: Southern Europe and Western Asia

Hello, my name is Sue and I’ve been volunteering at Highdown Gardens for about three years. I’m entrusted to do menial tasks in these beautiful gardens such as sweeping up leaves or weeding. Plus, I’m now training to be a guide hoping to share the fascinating story of the plants and people of Highdown.

The training has been fun, with Alex (the plant expert) and Ellen (in charge of volunteers) playing good cop, bad cop … one covering us in the compost of botanical facts in the hope that our horticultural knowledge will grow and thrive and the other drilling us endlessly on the facts that we have to have at the tips of our gardening gloves for when we do the tours. Yes Ellen, we can all now recognise the gorgeous Cyclamen repandum (see photo) and spot the champion tree Chinese hornbeam (Carpinus turczaninovii) at 50 paces.

Photo of cyclamen repandum (credit: Alex New)

Cyclamen repandum (credit Alex New)

But there is one specimen that has caught my attention and to which I keep returning – the Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum). What is it about this tree that I find so alluring? I think it is partly the name. It is said to be named after that most despised of Biblical characters, Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 disciples and who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, leading to his arrest and crucifixion. He is said to have hung himself from the branches of this beautiful and quirky tree. More likely, but less memorable, is that it is named after Judea, now called Israel where it can be found.

It’s unusual but not rare and a friend recalls seeing it often in Turkey, where she lived for many years. Here at Highdown, there are three or four Judas trees and in late April this year, they were at different stages of flowering depending on their position. Let’s talk about the flowers because that is the other fascinating thing about Judas – the flowers often grow directly onto old bark. Just pause to take that in because that really struck me as being unusual! Often, before the leaves develop, these little dark pink buds pop up straight onto the bark. If you know of any other trees where this happens, please let me know! They have a complex dark pink, pea-like flower and although I’ve not seen it yet, bear a pod-like fruit later in the year. One of the trees in the Middle Garden was absolutely covered in flowers, like a damask tablecloth.

Photo of Judas Tree flowers growing directly off of bark (credit: Ellen Mascard)

Judas Tree flowers growing directly off of bark (credit Ellen Mascard)

Photo of Judas Tree flowers up close (credit: Ellen Mascard)

Judas Tree flowers up close (credit Ellen Mascard)

Sir Frederick Stern recorded in his book, A Chalk Garden, that one of Highdown’s Judas trees came from Afghanistan and was given to him by the son of a fellow military man, Major Arthur Algernon Dorrien-Smith, who grew them from seed. There’s a whole other story to be told about this man, and his descendants who were Lords of the Isles of Scilly and created the world famous Tresco Gardens. Maybe another day!

One last amazing fact about the Judas Tree is that it likes to lie down as it gets older – becoming more and more prostrate so that many people think it has actually died. Now that is something I can really identify with!

Photo of Judas Tree lying down (credit: Ellen Mascard)

Judas Tree lying down (credit Ellen Mascard)

Highdown Gardens - sign, daffodils and Queen's Platinum Jubilee logo

Royal tours of Highdown Gardens for the Platinum Jubilee

Please note: The free draw for our Jubilee Cream Tea & Royal Tour
has now taken place and the lucky winners have been notified

Highdown Gardens has been a popular tourist hotspot ever since it was given to the people of Worthing in 1968.

But did you know that it was once a favourite day trip destination for the royal family too?

Now is your chance to find out about Highdown’s hidden royal history, as well as to explore everything else the garden has to offer on a free guided tour to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Highdown Gardens will be giving away 45 pairs of tickets for a series of tours of the gardens led by researcher Hamish MacGillivray and volunteer Jane Dore. The tours will explore how Highdown became a discreet getaway for the British royal family during the 1930s, while the house and gardens were owned by Sir Frederick Stern and his wife Lady Sybil Stern.

One of the most notable royal guests was Edward, Prince of Wales, who visited in 1933 – three years before as Edward VIII abdicated the throne. Guests will find out what his favourite plant was, discover Queen Mary’s secret addiction and find out what the glamorous Queen Marie of Romania was really doing at Highdown.

The tour is inspired by the Highdown Visitors Book, which is now in the West Sussex Record Office, and will also reveal how tennis became a catalyst for the Stern’s plant collection and shed light on the couple’s other varied achievements.

The tours will take place on Tuesday 31st May and Tuesday 7th June 2022, with three slots on each day. The organisers have promised plenty of audience participation and each tour will be followed by a complimentary cream tea at The Highdown Tea Room.

For your chance to win please complete the entry form below by Monday 25th April 2022:

Please note: The free draw for our Jubilee Cream Tea & Royal Tour
has now taken place and the lucky winners have been notified

Highdown Gardens - sign, daffodils and Queen's Platinum Jubilee logo




Tales from the potting shed

Highdown Gardens - Peter Keefe, Senior GardenerHello my name is Pete, I am the senior gardener at Highdown Gardens.

This month I wanted to share with you some of the regular propagation work which takes place in the garden.

Highdown Gardens has lots of different plants in its collection. Some are important mature examples or rare species, and these are being catalogued and propagated by our Plant Heritage Officer.

Many of the plants in the garden are more modest in their historical or botanical importance but still contribute to the interest and look of the garden.

Plants like these do not live forever. Some have very short lives naturally and others can find our climate challenging.

In order to ensure the continued presence of these plants in the garden different methods of propagation can be used.

Last year during the late summer and autumn, the gardeners were saving seeds from plants such as Tithonia ‘Torch’ and Lychnis Coronaria.

Lychnis coronaria

The Tithonia cannot survive our winter and only likes to live outside when there is no frost. It is usually fine in the South of England between May and October.

The seed has recently been sown in trays filled with seed compost and placed in our heated glass house. This should give us strong, young plants which can be planted out in the garden in May or June.

The Lychnis is a short-lived perennial that can survive our winters, so we have taken a different approach.

The seed was collected and sown in the autumn in our heated glass house. This has produced some lovely little garden ready plants which will only need acclimatising to the cold in our cold frames. They will be planted out later in the spring.

We also have a few lovely shrubby Salvias in our sensory garden. These can suffer if we have a bad winter so it is wise to take a few cuttings every year.


Last September and October we took several cuttings from healthy, typical non-flowering stems, putting four to six in a 9cm pot filled with compost and perlite, a mineral which keeps the soil loose and well-drained, and placed them in our new heated glass house.

Earlier this month we separated all the cuttings and potted them up individually. These will make garden ready replacements for any we have lost over the winter, or give us plants to use in other areas of the garden.

This type of propagation is enjoyable and cost-effective, and there is something incredibly satisfying about watching a seed you have planted, or a cutting you have taken, grow.

Great spotted woodpecker (Pixabay - 6552939)

A wild year at Highdown

Highdown Gardens - CharlotteHi, I’m Charlotte and I’ve worked at Highdown Gardens for a couple of years now.

One of the most enjoyable parts of working here is the wildlife I’ve seen during this time! Every day I’ll have a robin or two following me as I work, spotting grubs in the disturbed ground.

Early last year we were closed to the public due to renovation work which gave the plants and animals some breathing space.

There were pheasants running all over the garden in packs of five or six, I’d not seen so many together before! Interestingly, the collective noun for pheasants is a bouquet , a covey or a nide. They can be troublesome in gardens, scraping the ground and digging up plants to find food. At Highdown they tucked into a large number of our newly planted crocus bulbs, what a feast!

Pheasant (Pexels - nestor-montagu - 6572914)

Woodpeckers can often be heard hammering away and even seen far up in the trees. Last year a hole appeared in the Acer davidii near the visitor centre, about five foot up the trunk. This was quite puzzling until we saw a woodpecker pair coming and going. Not wanting to scare them away, we gave them plenty of space and were soon rewarded with hearing the chicks chirping away! The hole to the empty nest remains so see if you can find it on your next visit.

Great spotted woodpecker (Pixabay - 6552939)

Not just birds, we’ve got mammals too. One morning I came into sight of a fox and three cubs playing in the sensory garden. This garden’s an ideal place for them as there are plenty of rabbits about. Obviously rabbits are a gardener’s nightmare, which is why you’ll see certain plants surrounded by a low chicken-wire barrier to deter rabbits from eating them. Despite this I love to see their little cute tails hopping about.

Fox (Pixabay - 5042210)

One time I was weeding through the borders and noticed a tiny hole next to me and saw rustling in the leaves nearby. A minute later a little furry blur ran out and then, changing his mind when he saw me, quickly retreated back into the foliage. I kept really still and the creature tried a few more times, each time coming a little bit closer to me and I saw it was a vole. Eventually he got the courage to and ran out all the way and scampered straight down the hole next to my boot.

We have smaller critters of note in the garden. Everyone is curious about the Euonymus grandiflorus in spring time when it gets completely covered in the web of the spindle moth caterpillars, from which caterpillars hang dangling in the air from long threads. The photo below shows them pupating in webs near the trunk before they become tiny white moths with black dots.

The web of the spindle moth caterpillars

One thing I’d never seen before coming to Highdown are stag beetles, of which I’ve now seen a couple over the summer. They like living in leaf litter, dead wood and shady spaces. I think the picture may be a lesser stag beetle as it doesn’t have the large jaws.

Lesser stag beetle

Why not come, look and listen for wildlife at Highdown? Just remember to be respectful of creatures in their habitat, not disturbing just quietly observing.

Snowdrop scene at Highdown

Stern’s Snowdrops

Alex New, Plant Heritage Officer at Highdown GardensHi everyone, I’m Alex and I’m the Plant Heritage Officer at Worthing’s treasured Highdown Gardens.

Over the decades that Sir Frederick Stern spent creating the garden here at Highdown, few plants captured his attention like snowdrops (Galanthus).

Such was his passion, he not only wrote a book about them and their close cousins the snowflakes (Leucojum), he was the first to describe more than one species and he even devised a method of identifying them that is still used today.

He built an admirable collection thanks to his many friends and contacts that either lived in or travelled to the parts of Eurasia where Galanthus are found in the wild. Back then, in the early to mid-20th century, wild plant collection was virtually unrestricted when compared with today.

Photo: Snowdrop scene at Highdown

Snowdrop scene at Highdown

Snowdrops grow wild across many parts of South, Central and Eastern Europe, across into the Caucasus and adjacent parts of the Middle East. There is a concentration of species around the Caucasus and the Balkans. The name Galanthus means milk flower and is a portmanteau derived from Greek gala (milk) and anthos (flower).

Although there are a great many species to be found in the garden, three that I find especially interesting are Galanthus gracilis, G. ikariae and G. rizehensis.

Galanthus gracilis is arguably the species that is most associated with Highdown as there are such a large number of them here. They flower between January and the middle of February. The name gracilis means slender or light. This is reflected in the gently twisting narrow grey-green leaves. They are pretty and unassuming. Although, like almost all species, the flowers are quite variable, they almost always have an olive-green ovary (the part that you see above the white petals) and have two marks on the inner segment of the flower, one at the top and one at the bottom.

Photo: Galanthus gracilis

Snowdrops - Galanthus gracilis

Galanthus ikariae flower later than G. gracilis. They get their name from the Greek Island Ikaria, from which they are native. This island was named after Icarus, the boy from mythology who flew too close to the sun and paid the ultimate price. There’s no danger of these snowdrops getting dangerously close to the sun although they do enjoy a warm sheltered spot and dislike very cold winters. You can recognise them by their deep-green, glossy leaves and by the single mark on their inner segment that looks like a pair of natty green Bermuda shorts.

Photo: Galanthus ikariae

Snowdrops - Galanthus ikariae

While Galanthus rizehensis is not the most ornamental snowdrop, it does have a quiet, understated charm. What makes it interesting is that it is one of the snowdrops that Stern was the first to describe. He grew seeds that were sent to him by his friend E. A. Bowles from Rize in Turkey. He noticed that a couple of the plants that germinated from this batch were different to anything else that he had seen. He described the plant, pressed a sample and sent it to the British Museum Herbarium where it was declared a new species.

Photo: Galanthus rizehensis

Snowdrops - Galanthus rizehensis

Many of the species that Stern grew at Highdown are still here and doing brilliantly. To celebrate that, we are carrying on the tradition of recent years by holding a Snowdrop Festival in conjunction with the charitable organisation National Garden Scheme (NGS) on Wednesday 16th February 2022. It’s still free to visit the garden when the festival is on, but visitors can donate to the NGS at the gate.

Click here to book a slot on the Snowdrop Tour …

Photo: The team preparing for the festival

Snowdrops - The team preparing for the festival

Tibetan Cherry Tree - Prunus Serrula

Plant Focus – January 2022: Tibetan Cherry Tree – Prunus Serrula

For this month’s Plant Focus blog David Smart, Highdown’s Plant Heritage and Gardening Volunteer, writes about the Tibetan Cherry Tree.

Tibetan Cherry Tree: Prunus Serrula
Common Names: Tibetan Cherry / Birch-bark Tree / Ornamental Cherry
Latin Name: Prunus Serrula
Country of Origin: West China
Location in the garden: Prairie bed at the garden’s entrance and next to the visitor centre

The Sterns originally planted an avenue of these cherry trees in 1938 to give interest in the winter months. Sir Frederick Stern, in his book A Chalk Garden, refers to Prunus serrula as having “small white flowers of no consequence, but a very pleasant and highly decorative mahogany-coloured bark which gives interest and colour in the winter”.

Since then, new ones have been planted to replace older dying trees, however these also became diseased so it was decided to remove them upon the new redevelopments. One cherry tree from the avenue still remains next to the visitor centre, and more recently one was planted in the bed by the garden’s entrance to pay homage to those that were lost.

Prunus serrula is a round-headed bushy deciduous tree native to Tibet and Western to Southern Central China. The trunk has shiny coppery bark and the leaves are narrow, turning yellow in the autumn. The white flowers are 2cm in width, and bloom in small clusters. The tree can grow to a height of 12 metres and width exceeding 8 metres over a period of 20 ro 50 years.

Photos: The trunk of the Tibetan Cherry Tree – Prunus Serrula

Tibetan Cherry Tree - Prunus Serrula

Ideally, the Tibetan Cherry should be grown in full sun, but can tolerate any aspect or exposure. It prefers any moderately fertile chalk, sand, clay or loam soils that are moist but well-drained, at all but extremes of pH. They are frost-hardy to -20 degrees Centigrade. It can suffer from silver leaf, bacterial canker, blossom wilt, as well as pests such as caterpillars, leaf-mining moths and bullfinches. Despite this it is a low maintenance plant, though may need pruning in mid-summer if the disease silver leaf is a problem.

In its native range it was believed that cherry wood kept away evil spirits, so people would hang branches of cherry wood over their doors on New Year’s Day and make cherry wood statues to guard their houses.

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

Making the most of the new start to the year

Highdown Gardens - Peter Keefe, Senior GardenerHello, my name is Pete and I am the Senior Gardener at Highdown Gardens.

After the dark leaden skies that to me seemed to dominate in December, it is finally a relief to be a couple of weeks into January 2022. The days are now noticeably lighter and the garden is starting to show signs of life. On the occasions when the sun shines on a cold crisp day, it is a real joy to be outside.

One plant that is making the most of the new start to the year is the Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), a member of the buttercup family with a bright yellow flower that is native to the woodlands of France, Italy and the Balkans. It was introduced to the garden by Frederick Stern and it now thrives in our alkaline soils, having naturalised into large swathes of the garden and in some places it forms a carpet of flowers. A feast for the eyes at this time of year.

Photo: Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

A plant that you might smell before you see it, while walking around the garden, is our fragrant Sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia). A flowering shrub and a member of the box family native to China, it is found throughout Highdown Gardens providing a lovely scent that can hang in the air when the weather conditions are right. As it is evergreen when not in flower, it also gives constant structure in the garden. It is a great plant if you have a difficult shady situation and you are looking for some all year interest in your own garden. It will also tolerate being controlled and shaped by a prune after flowering in spring.

Photo: Sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia)

Sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia)

These are just a couple of the plants that increase the interest in the garden throughout the winter season. Soon we will get to the inevitable explosion of growth and colour that the spring will bring.