A salute to 50 years of borough council ownership at Highdown Gardens

Volunteers, visitors and special guests gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Worthing Borough Council taking over world-famous Highdown Gardens.

At a special ceremony on Monday (Feb 19) the Mayor of Worthing, Cllr Alex Harman unveiled a plaque on a bench in the Millenium Garden section of Highdown to commemorate the hand-over.

“I am proud that our predecessors took on the challenge of preserving the legacy of this magnificent garden and want to pay tribute to all the head gardeners, staff and volunteers who have ensured that it remains a jewel in our crown,” he said.

Fifty years ago on Monday Lady Sybil Stern handed over the gardens on the wishes of her late husband, Sir Frederick.

The Sterns created the world’s first chalk garden high up on Highdown Hill at the beginning of the 20th Century. Sir Frederick sponsored swashbuckling plant hunting expeditions to China and the Far East to bring back exotic plants which thrived on the chalk and are still there today.

Sir Frederick, who died in 1967, stipulated that the Council should look after the gardens using his famous book A Chalk Garden as a reference and ever since then a succession of head gardeners and their staff have been dedicated to keeping his legacy alive.

The Mayor made special mention of the head gardeners who worked for the Borough Council to keep the gardens as Sir Frederick planned them.

Mayor of Worthing, Cllr Alex Harman with volunteers, guests and gardeners in the Millennium Garden at Highdown. The bench has a plaque commemorating 50 years of ownership by Worthing Borough Council

The first municipal head gardener was John Bassingdale followed by Ron Read, Chris Beardsley, Jo Hooper and Gary Prescod. Mr Bassingdale’s daughter Mary-Anne Hedges who lived in the current gardener’s bungalow and who still volunteers at Highdown was present for the unveiling.

Worthing Borough Council Executive Member for the Environment, Cllr Diane Guest, said; “Highdown is such an important garden and is one of the only such places owned and maintained by a local authority.

“I think we have just reason for pride that we have keep Sir Frederick’s legacy alive and well for the last 50 years.”

Highdown was horticulturally important in the first half of the 20th Century because Sir Frederick grew exotic plants from around the world on soil thought inhospitable to any growth.

Under the Borough Council the gardens have been designated a National Collection and have been awarded a Green Flag



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