Head Gardener Tom Brown embodies Parham, well built, welcoming and always on the creative move.
For ten years now he has managed and also upgraded Parham Gardens, part of the 875 acre site in which the 16th Century Manor House comfortably sits.
The gardens pre-date the house, with vegetable growing activities recorded there as early as the 15th Century when it was owned by the monks of Westminster. Hiding behind the Downs, the gardens are protected by the worst of the South Westerly winds and have good free draining soil that has benefited from hundreds of years of cultivation.Parham Gardens is a giant collection of different spaces, similar to menageries, that pretty much represent the history of English gardens. There is the famous Walled Garden as well as other spaces such as an Exotic Garden, Herb Garden, Rose Garden, Pleasure Grounds with a new addition, a Shingle Garden to grow more drought resistant plants. There are also long, elegant glasshouses and a nursery selling specialised plants.
In the 1920s a tree fell and crashed into one of the walls of the Walled Garden. Rather than repair the walls with bricks, the Lord at the time built a two story Wendy House to fill the gap and each year Lady Emma Barnard and her family spent a whole night in there telling stories. Tom sees his task as keeping alive the spirit of the garden in keeping with Parham House and the landscape, whilst also bringing on the reputation of the gardens by constantly improving plant combinations in the borders and developing different areas.
“I like to bring the gardening team on as well, especially improving their knowledge. To make all this happen we have over 80 seasonal workers and 25 regular volunteers, as well as seven permanent gardeners. A lot of my job is management these days but I still get on the mower when needed. I know what plants go well here so I enjoy finding variations on a theme.”Tom has not just done that. Over the last few years he has revamped enormous long borders, creating colour themed beds such as the Blue and Gold Border with intense Rudbekias, Lavenders and Cardoons, Heleniums, and ochre coloured Achilleas.
There is a Red Border with bronze Fennel, Red Hot Pokers, Molinia and Libertia peregrines and a revamped White Border is on the way.
Dating from the 18th Century in its current form, the Walled Garden is perhaps the most beautiful space in the garden. Spread over 4 acres, its history reflects the centuries gone by. At times it has been grass land, left fallow and at one point converted into small allotments.
Today it holds a collection of horticultural ‘events’. An orchard with an emphasis on dessert apples, herbaceous borders and shrub borders. A self contained herb garden is quite unique sitting within the walls of the garden, surrounded by tall Yew hedges. There are lots of varieties of Mint, Sage plus Chives, Oregano and Artemisia with a fat little cherub in the middle.Tom sees the garden as providing an opportunity for the public to learn about plants in a way they couldn’t in their own gardens. A couple of years ago, they grew 100 types of Sunflowers along a south facing wall. The public were delighted and Tom’s team were able to see which sunflowers suited the garden the best. This experiment was so popular that they have repeated the experiment with trials of Dahlias, Gladioli and Alliums planted directly into the lawns which were a surprising success. This year they plan to grow 150 different annual climbers which will be thrilling to see.
If you are visiting soon there are tours around the landscaped grounds where a great herd of deer can be seen. There are numerous horticultural events as well throughout the year. It is well worth visiting a historic dwelling that is also not afraid of moving with the times.By Andrew Staib, Principle Designer of Glorious Gardens www.gloriousgardenssussex.co.uk