The Borde Hill Garden Book
Borde Hill Garden – A Plant Hunter’s Paradise
The first book devoted to one of Britain’s great heritage gardens, which has belonged to five generations of the Stephenson Clarke Family and continues to be planted with passion.
About the Book
The story of our nationally important Garden and Grounds
Renowned for its magnificent collections of trees and flowering shrubs from across the world, Borde Hill is one of Britain’s great heritage gardens. This beautiful new book is the first to tell the story of this spectacular garden, explaining its botanical importance as a living link with the golden era of plant hunting and horticultural derring-do, and taking the reader on a wonderfully immersive illustrated tour.
Set in historic parkland in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in West Sussex, Borde Hill’s Elizabethan Mansion House and Garden have belonged to five generations of the same family since being bought by Colonel Stephenson Robert Clarke (‘Stephie’) in 1893. In the first section of the book – ‘The History’ – notable author Vanessa Berridge draws on her exclusive access to the family archive of photographs, meticulous notes and letters to explain how Stephie set about creating this remarkable Garden and Woodland.
Stephie’s extensive correspondence with nurserymen, directors of botanical gardens and plant hunters give a unique insight into the horticultural world of the time. They reveal acts of courage by such famed plant explorers as Ernest Wilson and George Forrest and the professional level of accomplishment needed to bring back – and nurture – plants and trees from the far reaches of the globe.
Illustrated by the glorious photography of John Glover, the second part of the book leads the reader around Borde Hill, taking in everything from the Old Rhododendron Garden to Jay Robin’s Rose Garden, Paradise Walk and the Azalea Ring. Featuring many plant species found nowhere else in Britain, and woods with one of the country’s largest privately owned collections of champion trees, Borde Hill offers visitors the world in one garden.
With a foreword by leading garden writer and plantsman Stephen Lacey, this engaging book is a fitting celebration of one of the country’s most important gardens. It concludes with information on Borde Hill’s numerous historic plants, its champion trees and its many RHS Awards of Merit.
About the Authors
Vanessa Berridge is a garden historian and former magazine editor. Her books include Kiftsgate Court Gardens, The Garden Media Guild’s 2019 Garden Book of the Year.
Stephen Lacey is a garden writer, lecturer, broadcaster, and plantsman. He is a long-standing columnist and features writer for the Daily Telegraph, and contributes to many other publications, including House & Garden, The Garden, and Horticulture magazines. His books include The Startling Jungle: Colour and Scent in the Romantic Garden (1986), Real Gardening (2002), The RHS Companion to Scented Plants (2014), and Gardens of the National Trust (rev. edn, 2016).
John Glover has been a garden and landscape photographer for more than 40 years and is the winner of numerous awards.
- Price: £35.00
- Publisher: Merrell
- Language: English
- Hardcover: 208 pages
Buy online or from the Garden Gift Shop
Online orders will be available for collection from the Gift Shop during normal Garden opening hours.
If you would like the book sent to you directly, please contact us at [email protected] for a postage quote.
Read a Review
Read a comprehensive review of ‘Borde Hill Garden – A Plant Hunter’s Paradise’ by Roy Lancaster CBE, VMH.
The review is courtesy of RHS Rhododendron, Camellia & Magnolia Group Bulletin 139, August 2022.
Open the review here
Review by Roy Lancaster CBE, VMH
Courtesy of RHS Rhododendron, Camellia & Magnolia Group Bulletin 139, August 2022.
One of the most treasured volumes in my library is a bound copy (published in 1935) of a Catalogue of the Trees and Shrubs (excluding Rhododendrons) at Borde Hill, Sussex in December 1932. It was compiled by the Kew-based botanist and dendrologist Albert Bruce Jackson (1876–1947) with a foreword and notes by Col. Stephenson Robert Clarke CB. My copy was bequeathed to me by a long-time friend and colleague of mine, the late Hatton Gardner who for many years in the 1960s spent much of his free time updating the plant records at Borde Hill via a card index system.
Borde Hill, one of the great gardens of Sussex, and Britain for that matter, benefited from the personal interest and endeavours of several successive generations of the Clarke family beginning with Colonel Stephenson Robert Clarke (1862-1948) and continuing through to the present day with Andrewjohn Patrick Stephenson Clarke (1955-). My earliest visit to this plant paradise was in the 1960s when the then owner Ralph Stephenson Clarke (1892-1970) invited my employer Harold, later Sir Harold Hillier, a long-time gardening friend, to tour the collections. It was an experience I shall never forget and we were joined by the Head Gardener Brian Doe. It was the first of many visits, which included an equally memorable day in July 1975 in the company of Tony Schilling together with the late Alan Mitchell and the late Desmond Clarke (a cousin of Robert Nunn Stephenson Clarke (1925-1987)), a well-known dendrologist and Chief Editor of the Eighth Edition of W.J. Bean’s Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles. On this occasion we had come together principally to view and discuss the many birch (Betula) species and varieties represented, and guided by the then Head Gardener Jack Vass, we went on to look at the many other trees and shrubs there which included a huge selection of rhododendrons, species and cultivars, and likewise camellias.
Indeed, it was at Borde Hill that one of the most popular and famous camellias of all time, Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’, was raised from a cross made in the winter of 1937-38 by the then Head Gardener Walter Fleming between C. saluenensis and C. japonica ‘Donckelaeri’ (now known as C. japonica ‘Masayoshi’). The details of ‘Donation’, including its introduction to commerce and subsequent success, is but one of the many stories to be found in this long awaited, fulsome and fitting tribute to the Garden and the gardening dynasty that created and continues to develop and support it.
Its author has faithfully recorded a real-life saga that features a supporting cast of some of the most significant names in British gardening history, spanning the late Victorian era to the present day. There is a skilful balance in the narrative which, while detailing the lives and times of the Clarke family living in the “big” house reminds us also of those other individuals who in their own ways contributed to the story, in particular the gardening staff. It comes as no surprise that the roll call of Head Gardeners from the beginning included some of the most skilled and respected of their profession and it is fair to say that the respect was acknowledged by their employers to their mutual benefit. Indeed, some of those who shone at Borde Hill subsequently pursued a successful career elsewhere.
Inevitably, it is the Garden that dominates the show and the author faithfully reminds us of the sheer numbers and variety of plants successfully grown at Borde Hill, reflecting the many and varied interests of the Clarkes and the many sources and calibre of their suppliers, be they nurseries such as Veitch or Hilliers, plant hunters including Wilson, Forrest and Kingdon Ward or friends and fellow enthusiasts such as Lionel de Rothschild at Exbury and George Johnstone at Trewithen, while RHS Wisley and the botanic gardens at Kew and Edinburgh also played their part.
Every visitor will have their own special tree moments and I know I won’t be alone in choosing the Garden of Allah, an area close to the house created by Stephenson Robert Clarke in 1925 where he was inspired to plant a “who’s who” of special trees which included Magnolia fraseri, M. officinalis and M. obovata from S.E. USA, China and Japan respectively, known here as ‘The Three Sisters’ or ‘The Holy Trinity’. Nearby he added a Chinese Tulip tree Liriodendron chinense, a Wilson original bought from Veitch in 1913 which represents as impressive a quartet as can be found anywhere. Not far away in Warren Wood is another signature tree in Meliosma alba (formerly M. beaniana), one of only three in British collections. Almost, if not as important as the ‘woodies’ are the enormous numbers of perennials including bulbs which attract their own admirers.
This brings me to the colour illustrations, most of which were provided by John Glover. There are garden books in which the text is dominant and the illustrations disappointing and vice versa. Here the illustrations are beautifully in sync with the narrative and are particularly successful in capturing the spirit of the garden and its plants through the seasons. They also highlight the many changes made by family and staff over the years as well as those new features and planting schemes designed and delivered in more recent years by some of the profession’s outstanding talents. Added to these and enriching the book in its early (historical) chapters are the many archive photographs.
A final note. With this publication’s specialist relationship in mind and for those who have never visited Borde Hill, and they must be few, this account makes a brave attempt at acknowledging the multiple riches of the rhododendron, camellia and magnolia collections here which alone, in the flowering season, would occupy the enthusiast’s undivided attention were they able to avert their eyes to all else.
Roy Lancaster CBE, VMH
Travel & Directions
Easily accessible, Borde Hill is only 45 minutes from London, 30 minutes from Brighton and 15 minutes from Gatwick Airport. It is a five minute taxi ride from Haywards Heath train station and just off the M23 motorway.
Become a Member
Borde Hill Membership is your ticket to enjoy unlimited access to the Garden and Parkland throughout the open season. Our members also receive free entry to a number of exciting events, from live music in the Garden to Specialist Plant Fairs, the Sussex Guild Contemporary Craft Show and much more. Family Membership also provides unlimited access to the Adventure Playground and free school holiday trails.
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Our Garden & Grounds
Set within 383 acres of heritage listed Parkland, our formal Garden captivates and delights visitors with a series of intimate 'Garden rooms'. Beyond the formal Garden you can explore Woodland walks, the South Park and our lakes with outstanding views across the Sussex High Weald.
As a small, independent Garden Charity, we rely on your kind generosity to help fund our projects and to continue to grow sustainably, protecting our natural heritage for generations to come. 'Reinventing Borde Hill' is our most ambitious project to date and your support will help us to achieve exciting plans to benefit our local community.
It would make a huge difference if you would consider supporting us by making a donation – thank you.