Nestling in an idyllic downland setting, the 35-acres of garden at West Dene (part of a working estate of some 6000 acres) have been developed over the centuries as owners have come and gone and left their personal legacy for us to enjoy today. The view across sweeping lawns to the front of the house, beyond the natural ha-ha of the River Lavant (a ‘winter bourne’ which floods in winter but can disappear completely in a dry summer), draws the eye to the landscape beyond of rolling parkland interspersed with large clumps of trees giving a naturalistic feel to the formal ‘landscape’ design of the 18th century.

The large house of flint and stone has undergone four major building periods and moved from being an E-shaped Jacobean structure built in 1622 for then owner James Lewkenor, to a revised structure built by James Wyatt between 1804 and 1830 which forms the basis of the house we see today and this itself was extended in 1891 by the architects Harold Peto and Ernest George. In 1971 the house was extended and altered again as it became a college for arts and crafts.

The spectacular 100m pergola, designed by the architect Harold Peto and begun in 1912, runs across the North Lawn – affording a series of ‘framed views’ of the Park from between the 62 columns (each bearing 2 climbing plants – clematis, honeysuckle, roses – making a fabulous display in summer) and features to surprise and delight along its length.

The Walled Garden of over 2 acres, which had suffered post war neglect and decline since its heyday in Victorian and Edwardian times, is a model of orderliness having undergone extensive restoration since the 1980’s to restore it to its former splendour when the enormous wealth of the owners was able to sustain an army of 22 gardeners (11 in the walled garden alone). ┬áIt contains 13 beautifully restored Victorian glasshouses in which grow vines, peaches, figs, collections of orchids and ferns, auriculas, lillies – to name a few.

Edward James was the last private owner of West Dean. A Surrealist poet and great patron of the arts, he turned his back on the Edwardian aristocratic life he had been born into in 1907, moving to Mexico in the early 1950’s where he created a fabulous Surrealistic sculpture garden and home for himself in the jungle slopes of the Sierra Madre. He created a charitable foundation in 1964 in order to keep his father’s beloved West Dean estate intact and ensured that it could become a residential college and conference centre offering hundreds of courses in the visual arts and crafts and conservation and restoration.

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