Wreath making (banner)

Wreath making (7th and 14th December)

Wreath making at Highdown Gardens

Dates and times:

  • Thursday 7th December 2023, 12 midday to 1:30pm
  • Thursday 7th December 2023, 2pm to 3:30pm
  • Thursday 14th December 2023, 12 midday to 1:30pm
  • Thursday 14th December 2023, 2pm to 3:30pm

Price: £20

Would you like to take home your very own piece of Highdown Gardens this Christmas? Highdown is offering relaxed, good value and natural wreath making sessions over December.

There will be a beautiful selection of hand-picked foliage from the garden for you to have a go at making your own wreath in the garden’s very own glasshouse!

Natural willow, hazel and cornus bases have been pre-made by Highdown’s volunteers so you can get stuck in to decorating your wreath straight away.

Please note this is not a step-by-step workshop, however we will have friendly volunteers on hand to guide you in your creativity! Each ticket includes a hot drink and festive sweet treat.

Come along and get creative, have fun, enjoy some festive treats and jingles to get you in the holiday spirit!

100% of all profits goes towards sustaining and maintaining Highdown Gardens.

Book tickets for wreath making

Wreath making (banner)

Solanum Laciniatum - Kangaroo Apple

Pergola pruning time

Highdown Gardens - LisaHello my name’s Lisa and I’m a Craft Gardener at Highdown Gardens.

Autumn is here and I’m aware the climbing roses along the Pergola, at the very bottom of Highdown Gardens, will soon need to be pruned and tied back. This task is done between late autumn up until the end of winter, when the roses have finished their show of flowers and rose hips.

At the moment the climbing roses’ new growth is long, hanging loose and dangling along the Pergola. Every winter, I have the long but enjoyable job of saving the climbing roses’ fresh new growth and tying it onto the wires along the Pergola, in my preferred circular, wavy style. However, old growth is saved and tied in if new growth is limited, to ensure the climbing roses look balanced and evenly spaced when tied up along the wires. If there’s plenty of new growth it’s a case of selecting the best and strongest stems and sacrificing the others, so the rose is not too crowded and there is space between the stems when tied up onto the Pergola.

Roses on the pergola at Highdown Gardens (looking west)

We have one rambling rose on the Pergola, Rambling Rector, which is treated differently to the climbing roses. It is pruned immediately after flowering, this is because rambling roses will not repeat flower and have finished what they were going to do that year, and will flower again next summer on the previous year’s wood. Unlike climbing roses which will flower repeatedly and flower next summer on the current year’s growth.

Originally during Sir Frederick Stern’s time there used to be two long Pergolas at the bottom of the garden covered with climbing roses, providing a magnificent tunnel of roses to walk through. However, over time trees had grown up and around the Pergolas, shading out the roses, and the two Pergolas eventually rotted away. Only one of the Pergolas was remade and put back, you still see a small section of the old wooden structure of the other Pergola.

While this area of Highdown Gardens is still a bit of a jungle, there are some beautiful shrubs growing here, like Solanum Laciniatum or Kangaroo Apple with its beautiful purple flowers which flower for a long period throughout spring and summer. This shrub attracts a lot of attention from visitors.

Solanum Laciniatum - Kangaroo Apple

Also the Schisandra Grandiflora Rubriflora or Chinese Magnolia Vine with deep red flowers flowering in spring and summer is stunning.

Schisandra Grandiflora Rubriflora - Chinese Magnolia Vine

Close to the Schisandra is the Clematis Armandii which is covered in cream-white flowers in spring, stopping visitors in their tracks.

Over the two years I’ve been here, I’ve found a few hidden shrubs growing in this area. Abelia Chinensis or Chinese Abelia with it white beautiful scented flowers, has only just stopped flowering now. It flowers mid to late summer but as the weather has been mild it was flowering until just recently.

In late spring I stumbled upon a group of beautiful Allium Siculum or Sicilian Honey Garlic emerging from a mass of Periwinkle undergrowth.

Allium Siculum - Sicilian Honey Garlic

Behind the Pergola and the roses, close to the Abelia Chinensis there is an elegant and unusual Buddleia growing. These discoveries give a hint of what this part of the garden must have looked like during Stern’s time. l look forward to the enjoyable task of identifying and pruning the shrubs in this area and controlling the Periwinkle, weeds and tree saplings growing here.

The pergola at Highdown Gardens (looking east)

Anita - one of our Highdown volunteers

What’s it like volunteering at Highdown?

Hi everyone, I’m Anita Cannon, and this week I’m hopping on the Highdown blog to tell you all about my experience volunteering at Worthing’s beloved chalk garden.

Anita - one of our Highdown volunteers

My volunteering role at Highdown Gardens started with a post social media advertising for Tour Guide Volunteers. I’ve always been good at talking to people and sharing my knowledge, my only issue was remembering facts!

That said, I decided to apply and soon after a very comprehensive training programme started. I learnt a lot from the garden’s knowledgeable staff, but it did take a while for me to feel confident about leading a tour. Support was offered and I never felt pressured to take one until I was ready.

My first tour was a bit nerve racking but it went really well. I have also found that as time has passed, I’m still learning and as I find out more, I can add new details to my future talks. I really want visitors to get their money’s worth and understand the garden’s incredible story!

My volunteer role has grown as I also became a Visitor Assistant helping at special events, such as the Snowdrop and Peony days and children’s Discover Days, which take place during the school holidays.

Lastly, I also trained to work in the garden’s pop-up shop, which features a range of plants for sale which can be found around our historic garden. You don’t need to have expert knowledge on the plants being sold, but you do happen to learn little gems of information as you go along.

Photo: Jane (left) with Anita (right) in the Highdown greenhouse volunteering in the pop up shop

Jane (left) with Anita (right) in the Highdown greenhouse volunteering in the pop up shop

I’ve recently volunteered for a Highdown Gardens history role, but this hasn’t started yet. I’m really looking forward to finding out more about these historic gardens.

There are also opportunities to join the team and volunteer as a gardener, either in the gardens or in the new glasshouse.

Volunteering at Highdown Gardens is such a rewarding role, as everyone is so friendly and welcoming. The staff really appreciate the work of their volunteers and I feel supported at all times. I can do as much (or as little) as I want, and there is never pressure to attend anything if I’m not feeling up to it.

Photo: Anita (left) with Rebecca (right) in the Highdown Visitor Centre volunteering at a Highdown Discover Day

Anita (left) with Rebecca (right) in the Highdown Visitor Centre volunteering at a Highdown Discover Day

If you feel you can give some time to the gardens please see:

It’s such a unique place and offers so much to the thousands of visitors who enter for free each year.

Thanks for reading, Anita.

Spindle Tree - Euonymus grandiflorus

Tree Tour of Highdown Gardens

Tree ID Tour of Highdown Gardens


  • 2023’s event has now happened – thank you to all that came along
  • We’ll be back again with other dates

See also:

Photo: Harlequin glorybower – Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii

Harlequin glorybower - Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii

Photo: Paperbark Maple Tree – Acer griseum

Paperbark Maple Tree - Acer griseum

Photo: Spindle Tree – Euonymus grandiflorus

Spindle Tree - Euonymus grandiflorus

Fringe Tree - Chionanthus retusus - flowers close up (photo - Anita Cannon)

Plant focus: Fringe Tree – Chionanthus retusus

Common names: Fringe tree or Chinese Fringe tree
Latin name: Chionanthus retusus
Found in eastern Asia: eastern and central China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan

The Chinese Fringe tree was first introduced to the UK in 1845 by Robert Fortune. Sir Frederick Stern bought the Highdown Gardens tree from Hillier Nurseries in 1934. It can be found in the middle garden and is one of my favourite trees. From a distance it is easy to see why it is called a fringe tree.

Photo: Fringe Tree – Chionanthus retusus

Fringe Tree - Chionanthus retusus (photo - Anita Cannon)

It is notable for its feathery white flowers and the name translates as snow flowers. It is not until you look closely that you are able to see the delicate flowers. When it loses its petals, it looks a bit like falling snow. It is a deciduous tree so in autumn its leaves turn yellow and shed.

Fringe Tree – Chionanthus retusus – flowers close up

Fringe Tree - Chionanthus retusus - flowers close up (photo - Anita Cannon)

In ‘A Chalk Garden’ by Stern the tree was featured in the July section and he stated: “Some of the finest of the flowering shrubs and trees bloom during this month”. Interesting to note that it now flowers a whole month earlier and can be seen in its full glory in June.

The Highdown Gardens Chinese Fringe tree has been awarded Champion tree status nationally for its height. It is related to Chionanthus virginicus which originates in America. The virginicus does not cope well with chalk but luckily for us the retusus does very well in the alkaline soil found at Highdown.

Historically the root was used as an antipyretic (reduces high temperature) and later for treating jaundice. I feel that sometimes we do not look at the whole tree especially when it is so beautiful in flower, but this tree also has another interesting feature; its bark. It is ridged and furrowed which gives it some winter interest and possibly hides invertebrates!

Photo: Fringe Tree – Chionanthus retusus – trunk and bark

Fringe Tree - Chionanthus retusus - trunk and bark (photo - Anita Cannon)

One final fascinating fact; trees are either male or female. The male has slightly longer and showier petals, while the female bears dark blue fruit in the autumn. The Fringe tree at Highdown is male with the more showy flowers so no fruit!

Many thanks to Highdown’s Tour Guide Volunteer Anita Cannon, for writing this blog and taking the photos.

Softwood cuttings workshop (730px)

Know & Grow: Semi-ripe Cuttings Workshop

Know & Grow: Semi-ripe Cuttings Workshop

2023’s event has now happened – thank you to all that came along

To enquire about future Softwood Cuttings Workshops, please email:

See also:


Photo: Know & Grow Cuttings Workshop

Know & Grow - Cuttings Workshop

Softwood cuttings workshop (730px)

Waterfall steps

Let it flow… and avoid that sinking feeling

Renovating Highdown Gardens’ water feature

Hi, Toby Craft Gardener here, updating you on work at Highdown.

The recent donation from the National Lottery Heritage Fund has brought many benefits to the garden, but unfortunately the water feature was not included in the works.

Due to the cost of running it and the difficulty of restoring it, combined with the complexity of the Heritage grant application, meant the waterfall became a bridge too far and the sad decision was taken to stop the flow.

Thankfully, a generous spirit in the community surfaced and offered us a very generous cash donation to keep our waterfall dream afloat.

About five years ago a brilliant couturier was starting his own design studio and shot a fashion shoot in the gardens, his imagination enchanted with the garden – that day remains with him a wonderful memory.

Then, on a chance visit, one afternoon two years ago, he spoke with the gardeners and learnt the sad fate of the waterfall. He was determined for us not to be left a drop in the ocean and wanted to help turn the tide.

Originally, when Sir Frederick Stern first constructed the waterfall nearly 100 years ago, the water that fed the feature came from a natural chalk spring on the downs near Highdown hill, which fed both the house and the gardens.

Photo: The water flows once again down the historic water feature next to the waterfall steps

Waterfall steps

The spring water flowed in a pipe to the bottom of the hill and was then pumped back up under pressure to the water feature by a diesel generator, located where there is now a sports field.

The head gardener of the time, John Bassindale, first job of the day was to start up the generator, to pump up water for the daily needs of a large and sophisticated garden.

The water flowed like this until, one day the water board built a reservoir on the downs, and the house and garden were put on to the mains system, meaning the waterfall would now be fed by mains water.

At a time when water was cheap and plentiful, running a ‘total loss’ system, where water is run through and not recycled, was deemed a reasonable solution, however, as we all know now fifty years later, everything has changed and water is anything but cheap and plentiful.

But technology has also changed. And Highdown Gardens have embraced the change.

We have imagined, designed, and built a sustainable, alternative solution that both honours our heritage roots, all the while staying true to Sir Frederick Stern’s spirit of innovation.

The Solar Pagoda

An off grid solar system which harnesses the sun to power a heavy-duty pump, this recycles the pond water five metres up to the header tank, and lets gravity take it down the fall, once again reviving the elemental sound of running water.

With zero inputs this clean energy system will bring joy and happiness to the thousands of visitors who enjoy the garden ponds each year, without, literally, pouring money down the drain…

But we cannot take all the credit for this achievement ourselves. For crucially, not without the invaluable help of a big group of generous, intelligent, skilful, and kind individuals who we must give credit to…

We are blessed with some first-rate businesses locally who contributed their specialist services and products to make it all possible.

On top of the magnificent pagoda structure, constructed by 4M Landscape contractors of Heene, sit the Sun Store solar panels, the solar experts from Goring helped us calculate how much battery power we’d need for the pump and then designed and fitted their custom system.

Photo: The Solar Pagoda houses the panels and batteries to power the pump

Solar pagoda

We then got Active Pumps from Ford to fit the pump, hoses, and controller. But all their hard work is now buried under the ground or hidden out of sight, busying away in the background, a bit like us gardeners.

The Horsham Stone, as originally mentioned in Stern’s book ‘A Chalk Garden’ has been used again, this is from a cretaceous river bed and has fossilised ripples in the stone. There is even a fossilised log which now sits atop of the fall.

Photo: A fossilised log sits atop the fall in a piece of Horsham stone

Fossilised log

All this stone is cemented into place with heritage lime mortar, and with chalk being the primary ingredient of cement, it is very apt that all this heavy laborious work in the chalk pit was fed by a constant supply of building materials from our reliable, trusted suppliers Gardner Scardifield.

We’ve used heritage Winklestone/Sussex marble, reclaimed thanks to St Mary’s Church, Thakeham, to enhance the nature pools. Look closely at the stone and you will see fossilised remains of small snails trapped in time.

Photo: Sussex marble/winklestone embedded with fossilised snails


Thanks to Roger Cordiner, author of Sussex Building Stone, who shared his specialist knowledge with us to help better understand these fascinating local materials.

At the bottom of the fall, the water flows into the pond and into a grotto. Formerly a lime kiln for burning chalk into agricultural lime, this cave feature grotto was previously dark and slightly foreboding.

But no more, thanks to a light system shining on a spectacular large Himalayan Quartz geode crystal, which was also given by the donor, now our shimmering jewel in the Highdown crown. This is very appropriate as Sir Frederick collected plants widely from the Himalaya as their growing conditions were similar to Highdown’s.

The Zaeem Crystal sits elegantly atop a bespoke Corten steel water bowl, made by Outdoor Design also of Ford. This bowl fills and falls with water, evoking the spirit with the mystical, tinkling sound of flowing water.

Photo: The Zaeem Crystal is a spectacular Himalayan Quartz geode

The large Himalayan quartz crystal which now sits in the cave next to the pond

We’re also blessed with a wonderful hardworking group of volunteers, who show up week in week out and were a massive help for a large proportion of the manual labour involved.

Also, a special mention goes to Phil Jones, a retired electrical engineer from the Friends of Marine Gardens group, who first helped us develop this ambitious scheme.

But back to the garden, the waterfall flowed through the rockery which was Stern’s original alpine garden. We’ve now replaced some of the many plant genera and species he collected, which had been long lost, but have been researched, sourced and replaced by our Plant Heritage Officer.

This stunning collection of jewellike flowers sparkle in the spring and summer sunshine, and play out their garden theatre atop their stage of stone.

Photo: Newly planted alpine plants adorn the rockery like jewels

Alpine plants adorn the rockery like jewels

As much as we’d like to say the job is finished (though gardening never is) if you descend the steps, you’ll notice the bottom half is yet to be renovated.

But given the time and resources we, with Worthing Borough Council’s commitment to our green spaces, can continue this fine work and return the gardens to their former glory.

I’ll stop spouting on now and just say we’re looking forward to you all streaming in to see for yourselves!



Handkerchief Tree flowers (credit @captured_moments_61)

Plant focus: Handkerchief Tree – Davidia involucrata

Common names: Handkerchief tree, Dove tree, Ghost tree, Pocket Handkerchief tree 
Latin name: Davidia involucrata
Found in South Central and Southeast China.

We have a few specimens of this magnificent tree at Highdown Gardens. One of the finest is located in the chalk pit opposite Musgraves Corner.

Photo: Handkerchief Tree (credit @captured_moments_61)

Handkerchief Tree (credit @captured_moments_61)

When in flower you can see why it has its name as its flowers flutter in the wind like white doves or handkerchiefs. The white ‘handkerchiefs’ are actually bracts, which are leaves morphed from green to white. The flowers are in fact marble sized and located in the middle of the modified leaves.

Photo: Handkerchief Tree flower close up (credit @captured_moments_61)

Handkerchief Tree flower close up (credit @captured_moments_61)

The modified flowers tend to form in lines along the branches, reinforcing its common names. Young trees do not flower as they can take 15 to 20 years to form their modified leaves. The tree is hardy, so will survive in the UK but prefers a sheltered position in moist but well drained soil.

Photo: Handkerchief Tree flowers (credit @captured_moments_61)

Handkerchief Tree flowers (credit @captured_moments_61)

The handkerchief tree was discovered in China in 1869 and described by the French Franciscan missionary Father Armand David (Père David). It was then brought to the UK by Ernest Wilson in 1904. It is believed that Veitch Nurseries commissioned the young, non-Chinese speaking Wilson to find the tree.

One can only imagine how he may have felt as he had not been abroad before. On arrival, he discovered the trees he had originally been sent to find had been felled to build a house. It was lucky that he was able to find other plants which he then sent back to England.

Many thanks to Highdown’s Tour Guide Volunteer Anita Cannon, for writing this blog.

Please note photographs were taken by @captured_moments_61

Discover Days banner (with large HG logo)

Discover Days at Highdown

Discover Days: creative days exploring art and nature

Thanks to all that came along to our half term Halloween event on Wednesday 25th October 2023 – we hope you had a great time!

Discover days will be back soon – watch this space …

Trails and activity packs

However, you can still access our trails and activity packs … these are resources funded by the National Lottery including Highdowns Explorer Cards, Town to Down walks, Junior Tree Trail which can be downloaded and printed free of charge:

trails and activity packs


Discover Days banner (with large HG logo)


Highdown Gardens Peony Tours

Highdown Gardens is offering tours of its beautiful peony collection!

Sir Fredrick Stern, creator of the gardens, had a particular love for peonies and not only bred them at Highdown, but wrote a monograph called ‘The Study of the genus Peonia’ in 1946.

These high quality tours will be led by Highdown’s Curator, Alex New, and Peony enthusiast, Simon Hollingworth, taking you through the gardens’ glorious collection and sharing Highdowns rich history along the way.


  • 2023’s event has now happened – thank you to all that came along

See also: