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Discover West Dean Gardens: Near Chichester in West Sussex

Discover West Dean Gardens: Near Chichester in West Sussex

Near Chichester, West Dean Gardens is a perfect place to visit for a day out in West Sussex. It has been given the title of one of England’s best-restored gardens, and I was interested to find out what made West Dean Gardens stand out above so many other beautiful gardens in England.

West Dean Gardens are separated into different areas around the estate. From the walled garden with its fruit trees and Victorian glasshouses to the sunken garden with its 300ft pergola and thatched shelter adding to its charm, they all add a different dimension to your visit.

The Spring garden at the furthest point of West Dean has flint bridges, secluded seating areas and a Winterbourne river running through it. And that’s not all; West Dean’s arboretum has a 2.5-mile circular walk with sensational views of the Sussex Downs.

So come with me as I show you what the beautiful West Dean Gardens look like!

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Gardeners Cottage Cafe

The Gardeners Cottage Cafe was once home to the head gardener and can be found close to the main car park. It has secluded garden seating areas for visitors to enjoy coffee and cake (our choice) or light bites such as salads and sandwiches. It is a lovely place to visit either at the start of your visit or for a sweet treat at the end.

Cottage with a wooden table and umbrella outside.

First Impressions

The first thing that struck me as I entered the gardens was how vast they were; I was not sure I had expected a total of 90 acres! The views of the Sussex countryside were delightful.

A small sign in the planting saying To Kitchen Garden and Glasshouses at West Dean Gardens.

West Dean Gardens History

The West Dean Gardens dates back to the 17th century when the original manor house was constructed. Two centuries later, in the early 1900s, the current flint-covered house replaced the original building, and the gardens were enlarged.

In the late 1900s, the house was acquired by William James, who rebuilt the glasshouses in the walled kitchen garden and constructed the magnificent 300ft pergola on the North Lawn. He continued to make alterations until his death.

The house and estate were inherited by his son, Edward James, who later became an influential patron of the arts. He had connections to Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte at the start of their world-famous careers.

He set up the Edward James Foundation, which supports the work of West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, which is on the estate.

Purple Flowers in a hedgerow at West Dean Gardens.

Sadly, in the 1980s, a catastrophic storm ripped through the UK, flattening everything in its path. West Dean Gardens bore this, with trees uprooted and extensive damage occurring. It took many years to regain the gardens’ original beauty, which visitors now enjoy.

Walled Garden

I love a walled garden and have done ever since reading “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett as a child. It was lovely meandering along the pathways of West Dean’s two-and-a-half-acre restored walled garden through the traditional Victorian garden layout of fruit trees, vegetable plots and cutting flowers.

Apples on a fruit tree.
Tall border flowers in West Dean Gardens.
Fruit Trees lined up against a wall in West Dean Gardens.
Pink Dahlia Flower.
Purple Thistle with a bee taking pollen.
Purple and orange Dahlia flowers.
Tall yellow plants in West Dean Gardens.

Several Victorian glasshouses are still in use in the garden.

Five glasshouses in a garden with low flower beds in West Dean Gardens.
Victorian glasshouse.

While wandering around the garden, I met Janet from the West Dean Gardens media team and happily made a short Instagram video for her while I was here.

Angie in a yellow dress being interviewed in one of the gardens at West Dean.

Linger for a photograph outside the thatched garden cottage; this seemed a big attraction for visitors due to its quintessentially English design. If only I could have got inside!

Walled Garden Cottage with a green door and a wheelbarrow outside it.

Sunken Garden

The sunken garden was so picturesque, with the 300ft restored pergola covered in magnolia, honeysuckle, and other climbing varieties on one side and a cute thatched shelter on the other.  

On this blisteringly hot summer day, the shelter was perfect for escaping the sun’s rays for a while, with fantastic views across the sunken gardens and out to the hills in the distance.

Sunken gardens with a very tall fir tree and a thatched shelter.

I loved the Latin wording on the steps, translated as “Look at the Present, Look at the Past, Look to the Future”.

Stone steps with latin engaving on them at West Dean Gardens.

Pergola and Orangery

Walking along the pergola will take you to two more thatched shelters and then around to the manor house and college. West Dean’s Grade II listed Orangery is located here.

Pergola.
Thatched shelter.
Pergola and shelter.
Angie in a yellow dress leaning against the wall of a pergola.

Originally built as a palm house, a popular addition to any wealthy estate in the 1900s, Edward James later converted it to an Orangery (garden room). In the 1980s, it changed purpose, becoming tea rooms for garden visitors. Today, it is used as an art studio for West Dean College students.

Orangery Building.

West Dean College

To the front of the college building, visitors will find toilets and an outdoor refreshment stop offering the same food choices as the Gardeners cafe. A perfect spot underneath an oak tree with elderflower juice was just what the doctor ordered as the temperature continued to rise.

Grey turreted brick building at West Dean Gardens.
Outdoor refreshment area.

Four-legged friends haven’t been forgotten at West Dean, with water bowls in several locations to keep them hydrated.

Dog water bowl station.

Spring Garden

The Spring Garden has flint bridges, ponds, and winding pathways that lead through dense planting.

Unfortunately, the River Lavant is Winterbourne, meaning it dries up in the summer months, so we couldn’t see the beautiful stream running through the garden.

Despite that, it was still a pretty place to walk, with lots of seating areas for a quiet moment of relaxation.

Dense planting along a flint wall in the Spring Garden.
Spring Garden.
White Hydrangea Flowers.
Trees and flowers in the Spring Garden at West Dean.
Spring Garden Pond.
Angie sitting on a blue bench in Spring Garden.
Angie standing on a stone bridge across a small river in West Dean Gardens.

Several sculptures were sited in this area, white and surrealist in form, adding a modern spin to these centuries-old gardens.

Surrealist sculpture in Spring Garden

St Roche’s Arboretum

St Roche’s Arboretum is the final resting place of the estate owner, Edward James. A 2.5-mile circular walk gives you sensational views of the Sussex Downs and back to the flint-faced college. In spring, the arboretum is a mass of rhododendrons and azaleas, a spectacle for any garden lover.

It was too hot to attempt the walk on my visit, so I will return in the cooler months to do it and to hopefully see the Spring Garden stream in full flow!

Expanse of parkland.
Six sheep sitting under a tree in West Dean Gardens.

Gardeners Restaurant and Gift Shop

With my day ending, I headed to the exit through the gift/plant shop and out between the fruit trees – a fitting way out for such a beautiful place.

West Dean has a licensed restaurant with indoor and terraced seating should you wish to have a meal before driving home or continue exploring more of the attractions in West Sussex.

Fruit trees.

Conclusion 

West Dean Gardens is the perfect place to spend a morning, afternoon, or all day. Take a picnic and find a sheltered spot to spend your time relaxing.

The grounds have evolved over the years and have developed into a beautiful place, and I would certainly agree that they deserve the accolade of one of “the Best-Restored Gardens in England.”

Please PIN for Future Travel to West Sussex

Conclusion 

West Dean Gardens is the perfect place to spend a morning, afternoon, or all day. Take a picnic and find a sheltered spot to spend your time relaxing.

The grounds have evolved over the years and have developed into a beautiful place, and I would certainly agree that they deserve the accolade of one of “the Best-Restored Gardens in England.”

Are you looking for further travel information on West Sussex? Please check out the following posts:

Discover Leonardslee Gardens: Beautiful Lakes and Woodland in West Sussex

How To Do The Ouse Valley Viaduct Walk from Ardingly Reservoir

Visit Ouse Valley Viaduct in West Sussex: A Practical Guide

Visit the Beautiful Borde Hill Garden in West Sussex

Need to Know Information

West Dean Gardens Opening Hours and Admissions

I received complimentary tickets to West Dean Gardens; however, all opinions about this visit are my own.

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