Gravetye Manor is surprisingly, relatively unknown outside of the United Kingdom. Despite this, it is one of the most important historic gardens in England, and possibly even our favourite garden (if we really had to choose just one!).
Located in West Sussex, Gravetye Manor is the former home of landscape gardener and writer William Robinson. This Grade I listed building is now a Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel and restaurant holding a Michelin star, and is surrounded by Robinson’s Grade II listed gardens, wooded estate and famous oval kitchen garden. As it is a hotel, Gravetye is not open to the public, with the gardens reserved for the exclusive enjoyment of guests of the hotel and those dining in the restaurant.
The two storey Elizabethan house was built in 1598 by Richard Infield, an ironmaster, for his new bride Katherine Compton. The manor remained in the Infield family until the late 17th Century and then passed into the hands of trustees in 1784. No records survive of the manor’s history during this time. In 1884 it was purchased by William Robinson.
Robinson restored the manor and commissioned architect Sir Ernest George to add a matching wing to the north-east. More importantly, he developed the garden into one of the most influential in England, employing the techniques and ideas he promoted in his many writings. In the process he ushered in the era of the English cottage garden and created what we now know as modern gardening. He particularly espoused a return to natural, wild gardening creating landscapes that celebrate nature.
GRAVETYE MANOR GARDEN
It was no secret that Robinson loathed Victorian formality. So he began by 'de-Victorianising' the existing gardens, ripping out shrubberies and rockeries and adopting the 'right place, right plant' method of planting which remains popular with gardeners today. He introduced the idea of the modern mixed border, adding vivacious planting that romped and cascaded and billowed from the formal lines of the garden, with well-planned vistas and unexpected treasures at every turn. Gravetye Manor remained his home and canvas for fifty years until he died in 1935.
When Robinson passed, he left the house and surrounding 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of natural landscaped grounds to the Forestry Commission. After being used as a base for Canadian Army soldiers during World War II it was left empty and derelict for many years. In 1958 the property and grounds were leased to restaurateurs who turned the property into a boutique hotel with a Michelin-star restaurant. Although the hotel has changed hands over the years, the restaurant maintains its Michelin star and in summer, the beautifully restored kitchen garden supplies 95% of its fresh produce.
Robinson's core 35 acres of natural gardens has been undergoing a full restoration since head gardener, Tom Coward, arrived in 2010. Trained at Great Dixter, Coward combines Robinson’s dynamic and experimental manner with successional planting to keep the gardens interesting all year round. Tulips in spring, followed by annuals and tender perennials mixed with herbaceous perennials and shrubs to provide a glorious display of flowers right up to the frosts.
This is a beautiful, dynamic yet historic garden that is continually evolving. Every visit feels like a special treat and offers new inspiration. We will simply never tire of visiting Gravetye.
We visit Gravetye Manor on our Spring Treasures & the Chelsea Flower Show tour in 2021.
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Images © Eliza Ford