Nymans Gardens, Sussex

Herbaceous borders at Nymans
herbaceous borders at Nymans

Nymans, a National Trust property is set in the picturesque High Weald of Sussex and was originally a family home.  Destroyed by fire in 1947, much of the house survives as a garden ruin although the remaining part which was re-built is open to the public.  The former home of  Lady Rosse who died in 1979, the open rooms serve partly as a gallery, displaying images from the great storm of 1987 which destroyed much of the estate.  The remainder of the house is suspended in time, furnished and frozen as if still occupied by Lady Rosse herself which is strange, since as an influential voice on National Trust committees, she was quite adamantly against ‘the museumisation of Trust properties’.

The estate’s origins can be traced back to the late 1800s when German-born Ludwig Messel bought Nymans in order to make it a family home.  Inspired by the wooded surroundings he created a garden with new plants collected from around the world including rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias.

The house was re-built in the early 20th Century by Ludwig’s son, Colonel Leonard Messel in the Gothic style and the garden was extended and planted with further plants and seeds collected from South America and the Himalayas.  On his death in 1953, Nymans was left to the National Trust and became home to his daughter, Anne Messel (Lady Rosse) and her second husband, the 6th Earl of Rosse.

Topiary beside the ruined house at Nymans
Immaculate topiary beside the ruined house at Nymans.


Today, the garden visitor can expect a perfect blend of formality and wild informality.  The journey around the garden begins in the ‘Top Garden’ where wide herbaceous borders overflow the wide gravel path with seasonal colour.  At the time of my visit (early July) the giant echiums were at their peak, towering above the bright jewels below.

sundial and rose arches in the rose garden
sundial and rose arches in the rose garden

The rose garden would have looked marvellous in June, but by early July much of it had ‘gone over’ (and nobody had dead-headed) but despite its faded glory the bones of the garden were still clear and the photograph shows the fountain at the heart of the rose garden surrounded by elegant arches of climbing varieties.

fountain in the walled garden
fountain in the walled garden

In the ‘Wall Garden’ a central fountain anchors the paths which splay out from the centre.  Here is a year round garden with structure provided by topiary with injections of colour giving summer interest in the form of over 6,500 annuals!!

A wide gravel path sweeps through the pinetum
A wide gravel path sweeps through the pinetum

The Pinetum provides a glorious walk around the perimeter of the garden.  A large variety of specimen trees lines the path which curves around a wild flower meadow towards the house.  As mentioned above, Nymans was hit badly by the terrible storm of 1987 and a large number of trees were damaged or lost.


The approach to the house is somewhat surprising, being the part damaged by the 1947 fire.  A shell remains, reminicent of a typical gothic haunted house and quite spooky. Luckily the path leads the visitor around the house where a sunny and welcoming walled garden encloses the habitable wing which is open to the public.  This area is divided into smaller gardens, each delightfully intimate and inviting.



Sadly we did not have time to follow the woodland trail around the grounds, part of  which are a designated site of special scientific interest (SSSI) due to the flora rarely found in the South of England.

The tea-room and plant centre are a perfect excuse for pause before journeying home although unfortunately the vast number of visitors on that day meant that the tea room had virtually run out of sandwiches!  My advice would be to have refreshments on arrival to avoid disappointment!

agapanthus and magnolia grandiflora beside the ruined house at Nymans
agapanthus and magnolia grandiflora beside the ruined house at Nymans

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