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Highdown Gardens
A hidden gem on the South Downs

Jo Hooper and Peter Whish, Head Gardeners at Highdown Gardeners

About Highdown Gardens: These beautiful chalk gardens in the South Downs countryside situated between Ferring and Goring, overlooking the sea, are a tranquil haven for all to enjoy. They are home to The National Plant Collection of the plant introductions of Sir Fredrick Stern - a unique collection of unusual plants and trees to be discovered all year round.

Find out about Jo Hooper and Peter Whish, Highdown's gardeners, below.

See also: Highdown Gardens website

You can read Jo and Peter's current blog posts on this page below:


2nd March 2019: Soaring temperatures and warm winter sun
Blog post by Peter Whish

Highdown Gardens logo

With soaring temperatures and warm winter sun, it's been good to be working outside at Highdown these past two weeks. And it hasn't just been the team of gardeners who have been hard at work either - as these pictures show ...

There is no early morning slumber for both these honey and bumble bees, whose pollen baskets on their legs were full at 7:45am when these pictures were taken.

Highdown is really waking up to spring now, with winter and early spring flowering bulbs and shrubs adding colour and scent to the cooler displays of Snowdrops that we enjoyed last month.

The honey bee (below left) is pictured on one of the earliest flowering cherry trees. Prunus 'Okame' is a beautiful small tree originally raised by Collingwood Ingram (1880-1981), who was an authority on Japanese Cherry trees.

2019-03-02 - Honey bee (left) and bumble bee (right)

We look forward to the flowering of another of Collingwood's introductions later in March, the Great White Cherry, Prunus 'Tai-Haku'. In 1926 he was invited to Japan to talk about their national tree and noticed a white cherry in an old painting which had been thought to have died out. Ingram recognised it in an unusual old tree he had raised cuttings from in a Sussex garden, and he was able to re-introduce it to cultivation. Only this week, by chance we planted a new young 'Tai-Haku' tree to ensure a place in the garden for the next generation.

The warmth has spurred us on to complete our winter work and get those trees and shrubs planted, beds mulched and begin pruning before spring begins in earnest. We can only hope that the weather is kind to us and does not revert to winter as it could so easily do, catching out wildlife and tender young plant growth.

The bumble bee, as shown in the second picture, was found on one of the most fragrant of our winter flowering shrubs, Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata'.

With changes in agricultural practices, gardens are increasingly important for early sources of pollen and nectar for our all-important bees on which we rely for the fertilisation of so many of our food crops.

Highdown Hill has seen a busy few weeks with the unseasonably good weather which has brought many visitors to the gardens and to our new neighbours at Highdown Towers. We are pleased to welcome The Highdown, a hotel, restaurant and pub, and hope that many of our visitors will now able to enjoy tea and cake after a visit to the gardens as they used to.

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9th February 2019: Snowdrop Festival
Blog post by Peter Whish

Highdown Gardens logo

After a short break in blogs from Highdown Gardens, we're pleased to be back and to tell you all about our recent Snowdrop Festival!

Following an approach by the Sussex coordinator of the National Garden Scheme (NGS), and last year's successful open day, we welcomed nearly 300 visitors to the garden in glorious sunshine last Sunday (3rd February 2019) to enjoy the splendid collection of snowdrops on show.

Sir Frederick Stern, who created Highdown Gardens, was one of the founder members of the NGS, an organisation which gives the public access to some unique gardens and raises significant amounts of money for nursing and other charitable causes. Although the gardens were bequeathed to the residents of Worthing Borough in 1968 and are now public, we continue to support the NGS with special open days.

Photo: NGS Snowdrop Festival opens at Highdown Gardens

2019-02-09 - NGS Snowdrop Festival opens at Highdown Gardens

Highdown has a great collection of snowdrops dating back to Sir Frederick Stern's time. He had a particular interest in the flowers which he picked up as he explored the plants that could be successfully grown in the demanding conditions in his garden on the chalk of the South Downs.

Photo: Paul takes a tour in the gardens to show visitors the Snowdrops and other plants

2019-02-09 - Paul takes a tour in the gardens to show visitors the Snowdrops and other plants

Snowdrops belong to the family Amaryllidaceae and members of the genus Galanthus, and there are approximately 20 recorded species and hundreds of varieties. Stern had picked up on an earlier Victorian craze for snowdrops which had begun in the 1880s, and because they are such a promiscuous plant they give rise to endless hybrids and varieties. Indeed they are the perfect collector's plant - those who are bitten by the Snowdrop bug are known as 'Galanthophiles'!

Together with another famous plantsman E.A. Bowles, Stern published a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) book on Snowdrops and Snowflakes in 1956, developing a way of classifying them that is still in use today.

Familiar with the native wild snowdrop, G. Nivalis, I have been amazed by the variety of the genus and the many good garden plants among them ...

In flower now and for the next few weeks we have a great show of naturalised G. Gracilis. With their blue-green twisted leaves and delicate nodding bell shaped white flowers, they hang as if from a little fishing rod below a bright olive green ovary. These come from coastal areas around the Black Sea. British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War in the 1850s brought bulbs home with them, having been amazed to see battlefields blooming with them after the harsh winter.

The early flowering G. Atkinsii is larger and has the RHS Award of Garden Merit, meaning it is considered to be an excellent and reliable garden plant - a good one to try at home.

G.Elwesii is another large snowdrop with handsome broad grey-green leaves. It was first brought into the country by H.J. Elwes, another Victorian plant hunter on a visit to the mountains near Smyrna, now Izmir, in Turkey in 1874.

Like the Snowdrop, Snowflakes are winter flowering bulbs - but as members of the genus Leucojum and again they are well represented at Highdown. The pretty white bell shaped flowers with green or yellowish markings on both the spring and summer snowflakes are, like the snowdrops, a herald of spring to come.

Photos: Snowdrops - G. Elwesii (left) and G. Gracilis on rockery (right)

2019-02-09 - Snowdrops - G.elwesii (left) and G.gracilis on rockery (right)

See also: Highdown Gardens website

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About Jo Hooper and Peter Whish:

About Jo:

Jo Hooper, one of the Head Gardeners at Highdown Gardens

Jo has been Head Gardener at Highdown since 2012 and since returning from maternity leave last year now works part time and job shares with Peter. Jo first discovered her love of plants and gardening growing up in rural Devon with a keen gardener for a Mum, but the bug really hit when she spent two years living on a farm in Costa Rica. She returned to England and studied at Plumpton College and has been a gardener ever since. Amongst various roles Jo has previously been head gardener at Peckham Rye Park in London and Alfriston Clergy House / Monks House for the National Trust, as well as training garden staff at Holland Park and various sites across London.

About Peter:

Peter Whish, one of the Head Gardeners at Highdown Gardens

Peter has worked in Adur & Worthing Councils' Parks Service for 25 years and now job shares with Jo. He is a Master of Arboriculture. He has a background in nature conservation and has spent much of his career here working with volunteers, landscape design and trees. Peter has a keen interest in history and is enjoying his role at Highdown where he manages three staff and an apprentice to help bring out the best in this nationally important garden and plant collection.

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