Work is proceeding at full pace to bring new life to world-famous Highdown Gardens despite lockdown causing some delays.
The £800,000 National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) sponsored project is improving the visitor experience and also, crucially, backing work to catalogue and preserve the many exotic plants which grow in the chalky soil and which were brought from around the world by the gardens owner and horticultural pioneer Sir Frederick Stern.
Developers are halfway through converting the old head gardener’s bungalow into a state-of-the-art visitor centre which will tell the remarkable story of the gardens; and a new central, wheelchair-friendly, walkway which will lead to a new sensory garden.
In addition the existing greenhouse is being refurbished, and a brand new greenhouse constructed to enable newly-appointed plant expert Annelise Brilli to protect the fragile plants that exist in the 8.5 acre gardens.
However the pandemic and lockdown has slowed down work and is hitting supply chains for building materials and infrastructure forcing the project board to put back the reopening of the Worthing Borough Council owned gardens from this autumn to next April.
The Council’s Executive Member for the Environment, Cllr Edward Crouch, said: “It is sensible to put back the opening to next spring so that the work can be carried out to the highest standards rather than be rushed.
“Once lockdown began we were really left with no choice but I can assure you that it will be well worth the wait. Already you can see something special is happening up on the hill.”
Already one of the activities funded under the project is reaping rewards. Annelise Brilli has identified several rare specimens which were previously unidentified within the gardens.
In the meantime project managers are preparing for opening in Apriland will introduce some preview tours for invited guests and lottery players in March. It is expected that the toilet block, next to the car park, which is being refurbished as part of the project will be re-opened before the end of this year.