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Borde Hill Garden unveils new plant hunters garden for 125th anniversary

The history and legacy of Borde Hill Garden’s diverse collection of plants is at the heart of a new design unveiled on Thursday 5 July as part of the Garden’s 125th anniversary celebrations. Sophie Walker’s modern design for the Round Dell mixes exciting new plant specimens, found in the 21st Century, alongside Borde Hill’s significant treasury of plants which includes one of the largest collections of champion trees in private gardens.

Four generations of the Stephenson Clarke family have lived in this historic Tudor house near Haywards Heath.  The garden is probably best-known as a plant hunters paradise, containing as it does, many rare shrubs and trees sent home to Colonel Stephenson R Clarke by the great plant hunters including George Forest, Frank Kingdon Ward, Reginald Farrer, Joseph Rock and EH Wilson.

Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke, the current custodians of Borde Hill Garden, commissioned Sophie Walker to redesign an area of the garden known as the Round Dell, to create an exciting and thought-provoking space which incorporates the exotic palms and plants sent back to Sussex by the great early 20th century  plant hunters, with exciting, rare and unusual new species collected by 21st century plant hunters.

The new garden in the Round Dell is set within a clearing that was once excavated for stone to build the house.

Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke, of Borde Hill Garden says: “Yesterday was a momentous day as we  unveiled the newly designed Round Dell in front of friends of the garden, Trust director’s and esteemed garden writers.  We hope that the Round Dell project  will communicate the depth of gratitude we have to the plant hunters of old and also the new pioneers of the 21st century like Crûg Farm Plants.

“The design is stunning and we are thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with Sophie Walker. We hope the visitors enjoy the narrative of this new part of the garden which extends the horticultural history of Borde Hill and my great-grandfather, Col Stephenson Clarke who did so much to bring rare and unusual plants to Sussex.”

The design itself encourages visitors to explore the lively heart of the Round Dell through a conceptual, minimal, architectural design. A single arrow-shaped path slices through the Dell, it’s low concrete sides meeting at a single point which leads to a concrete pool of water, fed by a waterfall that falls from overhead.

Sophie Walker says: “I hope my work at Borde Hill will engage the public and prove that exciting new plant-finds of the 21st Century can be used in garden design today, and can even open up possibility for new innovation in design.

“We don’t know exactly how these plants will behave and I have been working with head gardener Andy and his team at Borde Hill in developing an intuitive gardening practice around these exciting new plants.”

In 2014 Sophie became the youngest woman to design a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show with her garden Cave Pavilion, and she has already won multiple awards for her designs. Her work at Borde Hill melds history and modern design.

She says of Borde Hill Garden: “The context is historic and it provides a very privileged opportunity to engage in the past while looking towards the future. It’s a garden that was laid out with a plant hunter’s eye – making use of what were (at the time) new species.”

Sophie enjoys working with rare and unusual plants, which she believes lend an important contribution to the making of new design.

The Australasian Palms were sourced from Big Plants in Sussex but Sophie worked with modern-day plant hunters Sue and Bleddyn Wynn-Jones of Crûg Farm Plants to source most of the unusual and exotic specimens.

The Round Dell contains many varied plant species, Andy Stevens, the Head Gardener, favoured ones are; Schefflera macrophylla. Aralia cordata. Fatsia polycarpa. Zanthoxylem ailanthoides. Woodwardia unigemmata.

Sophie Walker explains that the use of something that isn’t immediately identifiable as a ‘freeing experience’. She says: “To use plants that cannot necessarily be immediately recognisable is a helpful way to free the viewer from our preconceived ideas about place – then we are free to be in the garden and look at the design for what it is. By utilising a new palette of plants we present an entirely new vision of what a garden could be.”

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