Open Gardens 2016 – Banks Farm
by Ruth Lawrence
Opening for the NGS Open Gardens, Banks Farm offers beautiful views and tranquil areas in its nine-acre grounds. Ruth Lawrence pays it a visit, and is loath to leave.
As I entered the long drive towards Banks Farm in Barcombe I knew I was about to find something special; a long spreading view of the Downs began to unfold and the wide nine-acre garden soon lay open as a map.
Gardener Geoff Holden has tended this land for 19 years, nurturing the original plan of the Warren family who created the garden in the 1950s. Last opened to the public ten years ago, a change of ownership has meant the gardens are to be shared once again for two NGS open days in April.
The first thing that hit me was the scale. Extensive lawns in front of the house lead the eye down to the land that dips into luscious foliage below the splendid views that curve far to the south from Blackcap to Glynde. Sited on a small hill, the vista is an impressive introduction to the treasures that lie below; a small lake, sheltered and partly hidden has a tranquillity that draws the viewer in to sit on the banks, watching the Indian Runner ducks emerge from the undergrowth. Geoff told me how the purpose of the garden was always to provide a link to the landscape beyond and create the feeling that you are sitting in a wider environment.
The original owner was very keen on trees and shrubs and there is a huge variety which has proved a rich food source for birds. A kingfisher hunts the water, a group of long tailed tits dart searching for food, tiny goldcrests are occasionally spotted and woodpeckers are frequent visitors. There is even a resident merlin, that one day dived under Geoff’s arm while he watched it chasing prey. Kestrels, sparrowhawks, buzzards and red kites are seen above the grounds and barn and tawny owls can be heard at night.
There are an incredible number of specimen trees at Banks Farm, with fifteen varieties of oak and three different deciduous conifers including a ginkgo. There is a splendid Dawn Redwood, named because it was once only known in fossil form until its discovery in China in 1948. There is a huge London Plane next to the house that was planted in the 50s. The species sheds its bark, which is why it was so suited to life in large polluted cities such as London. Three varieties of eucalyptus provide an exotic feel while a willow walkway leads the visitor through a bower which should be in leaf during the open garden days.
Lots of trees were lost in the ’87 gale although a Monterey Pine planted two years later now stands towering above its surroundings. An orchard lies sheltered behind a walled garden and a strip of acidic soil to one side of the lake is host to rhododendrons and camellias. There will be a wide variety of spring plants on display during the open days including tulips and Californian lilac.
Banks Farm is a garden of contrasts; water, hidden corners and intimate planting coexist with space, large mature trees and all round views. “It’s a dynamic garden with a naturalistic feel,” said Geoff, adding that “you have to think on a big scale with a garden this size.” The new owners are looking forward to sharing their piece of paradise with people, and on the open days, Geoff will be on hand to give advice, chat and answer questions about the garden and its planting. “People will be free to wander about, if you become lost, just head uphill!” he joked before letting me stroll around on my own. I sat by the lake for a long time, watching reflections dance on the water and listening to a light breeze rustle the willow branches overhead. Visitors will be loathe to leave this garden. It exerts a hypnotic pull and just when you are about to move on, another sight or sensation fastens you to the ground again to watch and listen.
On the open days there will be home-made teas in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and plentiful parking. There is so much to draw the attention here that most people are likely to linger. It’s a wonderful and welcome addition to the NGS year; go and enjoy!
The garden will be open for the NGS on Friday 29th and Saturday 30th April from 11am-4pm.
Address: Banks Farm, Boast Lane, Barcombe, Lewes, East Sussex BN8 5DY