Coffee with... Sarah Bray from High Beeches Gardens

6th May 2021

With the most exciting season for gardeners in full swing, we explored the intimate woodland and water gardens of High Beeches in Handcross, West Sussex. A stunning landscaped garden filled with a collection of rare, exotic and award-winning plants, this local delight has been shortlisted for the Historic Houses and Christie’s Garden of the Year award.

With spring time flowers in bloom and lots of activity for visitors to enjoy, we caught up with manager, Sarah Bray to discover more about the what delights we can expect this season plus her expert top three tips for the novice gardener at home...

High Beeches Garden Rhodedendrons AzaleaHigh Beeches Garden Rhodedendrons Azalea

How many people does it take to maintain the gardens and woodland?

Two full time Gardeners and an occasional volunteer look after 27 acres maintaining it to a high standard for visitors. Continuing the philosophies of Colonel Giles Loder who originally created the beautiful woodland garden back in the 1940's, we do not overcrowd to avoid over concentration on one genus, and we only use the very best plants. This helps to produce a harmonious balance between landscapes and an appreciation for the individual plants.

Do you have a favourite spot?

A difficult question but the view from the Colonels seat is always beautiful. I also like sitting among the Coastal Redwoods. This is the Garden’s Silent Space which offers visitors somewhere to enjoy the tranquillity of being surrounded by nature. We suggest turning your mobile phones off to fully appreciate the peaceful surroundings and take a quiet moment to reflect.

High Beeches Garden West SussexHigh Beeches Garden West Sussex
Redwoods High Beeches Silent SpaceRedwoods High Beeches Silent Space

Which is your favourite season and why?

At the moment I would say spring as it is when the bluebells fill the glades. Surrounded by the many Azaleas and the young foliage on the trees, is such a pretty time of year. However autumn is also spectacular...

What is your favourite plant that we can expect to see in the gardens this summer?

Stewartia Monodelpha; an elegant tree which has camellia like flowers in summer before turning a spectacular shade of red in autumn. It also has very attractive reddish peeling bark. The garden has the National Collection of Stewartia, and has recently acquired both Stewartia Ovata and Stewartia Malocadron which I am really looking forward to see flowering in the next year or two.

Stewartia High BeechesStewartia High Beeches
Insects High Beeches DragonflyInsects High Beeches Dragonfly

What wildlife do you most look forward to seeing return to the gardens each year?

The garden is a haven for wildlife and I am always excited to see the Kingfishers return, but I think that the dragonflies are my favourites. They are extraordinary insects and we have quite a few different ones in the garden. I enjoy finding a nymph, which is hatching and watch it spread its wings.

Do you have a gardening tool that you cannot live without?

It would have to be my Felco Secateurs, any good gardener should always have a pair to hand! And also my camera as I love to capture how the gardens transform as the seasons change. I take all of our imagery myself so that we can share these spectacular landscapes with the general public on our Instagram page.

What are your top 3 green fingered tips for the novice gardener?

1. Don’t plant trees too deep as this will deny the tree oxygen and may lead to it further sinking as the ground settles. And apply mulch to help the soil retain moisture in summer, rain to penetrate the soil in winter and prevent weeds from growing up around it.

2. When buying plants, check that they aren’t displaying pot bound symptoms. This includes wilting, stunted growth, smaller new leaves or a lack of flowers and yellowing leaves. Here at High Beeches, we always buy the very best plants as the investment always pays off. Also make sure that they are free from pests and diseases.

3. Trees and shrubs are expensive so make sure you protect your young plants from damage, rabbits, deer and strimmers!

High Beeches Garden West SussexHigh Beeches Garden West Sussex
Autumn High Beeches West SussexAutumn High Beeches West Sussex

You have purchased lots from F&P Interiors to redecorate your beautiful home that sits within the High Beeches estate. Do you have a favourite design in particular that you chose?

It has to be my made to measure curtains in the beautiful Jacaranda Linen Fabric that hang over the French doors that look out over the garden. This large floral weave was perfect as my home has a traditional interior style, so the design adds pattern but remains understated at the same time.

The colour goes perfectly with the rest of the room and I chose to have them interlined to help keep the warmth in during winter. I then added some traditional wooden holdbacks and a neutral tieback so that I can let as much light into the room when the sun is shining outside.

I liked the idea of celebrating the English Countryside inside my home so used the F&P Home Design Service when we redecorated to help me achieve what I was looking for. Working closely with Emma, I was able to pick designs that I loved and she helped me to match them with other fabrics to feature across my home and furnishings.

Made to Measure Curtains BespokeMade to Measure Curtains Bespoke
Jacaranda Damask Linen FabricJacaranda Damask Linen Fabric
Bespoke Curtains Made to MeasureBespoke Curtains Made to Measure

You have been shortlisted for the Historic Houses Garden of the Year Award in conjunction with Christies. If people want to vote for you, how can they do so?

Yes, I am delighted that High Beeches has been nominated for this award. The winner is decided by the public and anyone can vote for our garden on the Historic Houses Website or our website here. The award was set up to recognise the importance of some of the Britain's most spectacular gardens with outstanding horticultural and public appeal, so we are honoured to be shortlisted.

High Beeches Garden West Sussex HandcrossHigh Beeches Garden West Sussex Handcross

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