Nymans – National Trust

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Things to do


Date of travel

September, 2018

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Nymans belonged to the Messel family, one of whom was the grandmother of Anthony Armstrong-Jones, society photographer and first husband of Princess Margaret, another the artist and theatre designer, Oliver Messel. It is no surprise that their garden is an artistic as well as horticultural treasure.

We visited in September after the hottest and driest ever summer , thinking it might be past its best, but found plenty of delight. The house too, despite being just a fragment of the mansion destroyed by fire in 1948, had plenty to offer both in its intimacy and design and horticultural contacts.

Sunday afternoon seemed the least propitious of times to arrive, when we had to find our way into the third car park. Yet, apart from the tea room, it was difficult to understand where everybody had gone. Never more than a few people shared the rooms with us: even fewer seemed to be in the garden. Perhaps they had all ventured into the extensive wild areas where we will go one day.

We chose not to visit the ruins, although they were open to small groups. As it happened there were sufficient impressions to be had from just outside. Cellars anywhere are much of a muchness.

The walk from the garden entrance to the house gives a good impression of what is more appropriately called the landscape than gardens. Vista s of the Sussex Weald are among the most impressive borrowed landscapes imaginable. And of course some of the trees were donning autumn colours.

It seems almost an anti-climax to enter the house, yet beside it are the gothic ruins, like an image from ‘Jane Eyre’. Inside, the remaining apartments are small, even intimate. It soon impresses upon the visitor that this was a family fortunate to have been in, or in some cases, to escaped to the UK from Germany. One had even been allowed to come with a family heirloom, a bracelet made of pewter and therefore less than precious. A more valuable item would have been seized.

This year the achievements of women are being celebrated, and one of the women most celebrated in relation to gardens is Gertrude Jekyll. Her influence is apparent in the gardens but so also is the work of the Countess of Rosse, one of the Messel family who became its first head gardener after Nymans passed to the National Trust. Inside the house are exhibitions that include garden design and horticultural illustration. In one sense this even extends to fabric and dress design, with a mannequin displaying a dress worn at a Chelsea Arts Ball.

Formal gardens predominate around the house yet wild gardening, as promulgated by William Robinson, is an obvious feature of the lanscape beyond. By contrast there is also a television set displayed like a toy theatre.

Whatever your interest there is something to delight at Nymans.


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