Sheffield Park – A paradise in Sussex

Sheffield Park

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]If Andy Jesson was a tree he would be a stout Oak. With his relentless energy and passion for trees, the Head Gardener at Sheffield Park talks movingly about the history and aesthetic considerations of the Park, a hundred hectare parkland of spectacular beauty just outside of Fletching.

Sheffield Park
(c) Neil Cresswell


Originally created by Capability Brown in the 18th Century, it has been owned and transformed by numerous tree lovers. In 1954 it was bought by the National Trust.
With four great lakes, waterfalls, national collections of species trees and over 120 champion trees, entering into the park can be a spiritual experience.

“Look, there is the nyssa sylvatica that was planted in 1909 by Arthur Soames (who married Agnes Helen “Nellie” Peel, granddaughter of the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel). And there is our the Big Signature Tree, Hicory Kia cordyfolia. This is the first tree to colour in Autumn and when this happens this tells us that in 10 days time the rest of the garden will be at its peak.” So says Andy as he takes me through a tour of the park. I spy a graceful Japanese Acer that must be at least 30 foot tall and wide. For a garden designer like myself it is like spotting a rare Tibetan Tiger. And the Pinus montazuma that Andy points out is the biggest in the UK and must be one of the most beautiful of all the trees in the park.

“Over 2000 trees came down in the storm of 87 but we used this as an opportunity. See that Abies tree? Now look around for its baby. We are planting saplings next to all the old trees so when they eventually die a new one is ready to fill its place. The great thing about the National Trust- ‘Forever For Everyone’ – is that they are willing to invest into the far off future. So each year we propagate 10 different species of trees here grown directly from the seeds we gather.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text][the_ad id=”1022″][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Andy talks of the collection with pride. He has been working as Head Gardner for 16 years. In his time over 4000 new trees and shrubs have been planted, always with the original design in mind. “Though we label a third of the trees it is not a botanical garden. We are interested in the beauty of the design and the spirit of the place. The National Trust have christened this garden – Big and Bold- and we try to be true to this.”

Sheffield Park
Sheffield Park glowing yellow acer in autumn (c) National Trust Nina Elliott-Newman


Along with 6 full time gardeners there are 45 volunteers and numerous students that help out. In the peak season of October there can be 5000 visitors every day. Despite this amount of work the park is kept up immaculately with barely a weed in sight.

The history of the garden is everywhere evident. There are enormous 480 year old Sweet Chestnut stumps still sprouting a few green leaves that used to be an old avenue. There are old bridges built by Pulham & Son, and simply the great age of trees planted centuries ago by plant lovers, some of which are found no where else in the UK. Also Australia and England played their first ever cricket match here and the ground is still used today.

The crowning feature of the whole garden is undoubtedly the four great lakes.
“They are not natural lakes. We spend up to 26 days a year clearing out the weeds and growth to keep them like mirrors with just large round sections of water lilies to a scale of two thirds open water, one third water lilies. The mirror effect is vital because the trees along the edges of the water have been chosen to combine and reflect their colours in the water- the Rhododenrons and Azaleas in the Spring and the leaf colours in the Autumn.
“We will probably have a very red Autumn this year because of the heat.” Andy goes on to explain how in the heat the leaves create a ‘sunscreen’ made up of sugars and it is this that turns the leaves yellow, or if the Summer has been very hot, red.

Sheffield Park
Sheffield Park red autumn Nyssa reflection in Middle Lake (c) National Trust Nina Elliott-Newman


Andy describes his love of trees. “I love them for their strength and enduring nature, for their stoicism. I have devoted my life to them because they afforded me my happiest memories when I was growing up. I want to share them with others because we can learn so much from them. How to compromise, how to sacrifice and how to be accepting.

The future for Andy? I want to go back up North where I was born and create green spaces in socially deprived areas. Trees are great for mental health and research has shown that there is less crime around green areas. But I still have things to do here. We are opening up 30 acres of woodland soon.”

Andy finishes the meeting and speeds off. Lots of things to do in this paradise that is more than his 9-5 job.

What to see in October

Take a visit to Sheffield Park of course! You will have to wear sunglasses as the beauty of the Autumn leaves will blow you away.

Sheffield Park
Sheffield Park Silver birch and Acer reflection in Middle Lake 3 (c) National Trust Nina Elliott-Newman


[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]By Andrew Staib, Principle Designer of Glorious Gardens[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]



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