South Downs Heritage Centre And Garden To Open In The Sussex Downs

By Caroline Lewis | 12 February 2008
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photo of a boar sculpture on a plinth in a garden

A boar sculpture in the garden. Courtesy South Downs Heritage Centre

A plant nursery in Sussex is to open a heritage centre and garden displaying historic crafts from the county and horticultural methods from Roman times onwards.

The garden will take pride of place at the South Downs Heritage Centre, due to open in April 2008, adjoined to the South Downs Nurseries in Hassocks, just north of Brighton.

The Heritage Garden will show how plants have been used over the centuries throughout England, particularly in Sussex.

“Sussex has always had a wonderful growing climate, and for hundreds of years the land has produced fruit, vegetables, herbs, cereals, wine and beer,” said Jonathan Tate, the man behind the new garden. “For all of this we think the growing heritage of Sussex is worth celebrating.”

photo of a tractor

A tractor from ye olden dayes. Courtesy South Downs Heritage Centre

Before the arrival of the Romans in 43AD, plant cultivation in this country was relatively minimal. Wheat, beans, flax and barley would have been farmed, and native berries and nuts were collected from woods and hedgerows. More and more plants and animals were introduced as settlers came from other lands.

The garden charts the introduction of various plants to our shores. It begins with the Romans who predominantly imported medicinal and aromatic herbs and food crops, progressing through to the plant-hunting Victorians who zealously brought in anything new and exotic to these shores.

“A variety of plants will be displayed that are linked with Sussex by name, association or origin”, explained Jonathan. “The fruit trees are all English varieties, and the apples are all from Sussex. The vegetables are old-fashioned ‘heirloom’ varieties that would have been more widely grown in days gone by but are still very important for our future.”

photo of a wheelwright's workshop

The wheelwright workshop. Courtesy South Downs Heritage Centre

The new garden will also contain features such as a wild boar sculpture, panels demonstrating local building materials, water features, and a pebble mosaic illustrating historical Sussex. Aside from heritage and history, the new visitor attraction will show how historic plants can be used both practically and aesthetically to create a beautiful garden.

“We hope the garden will inspire visitors to nurture their own little bit of Sussex and keep our gardening heritage alive,” said Jonathan.

The Heritage Centre will showcase country craftspeople like the Blacksmith, the Wheelwright, the Potter, the Carpenter and the Trug Maker, alongside an interesting display of vintage tools and machinery from the locality. Many of the exhibits were rescued from the Blindley Heath museum in Surrey.

A dynamo and gas engine once owned by Magnus Volks, who created the Volks Electric Railway on Brighton seafront, will also form part of the display.

Rather than charging for entry, the Heritage Centre will ask for donations, which will be given to charities in the area.

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