Before they were closed to public access in 2010, after being sold to a mystery buyer for £5m. the Leonardslee landscaped woodland gardens attracted 50,000 visitors a year. They were first planted in 1801 and are noted for spring displays of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, magnolias and bluebells.
Visitors were also attracted by a unique doll’s house exhibition, depicting the Edwardian estate and neighbouring villages at 1/12th scale, and also a rare colony of wallabies that have grazed in the gardens for over a century.
Penny Streeter is the owner of the Benguela Collection vineyard and hospitality group. It includes the 400-acre Mannings Heath Golf Course and Wine Estate, located eight miles from Leonardslee, and Benguela Cove vineyard in South Africa, as well as four restaurants and a hotel on the Garden Route.
She said: "We will restore the gardens to their former glory and create new facilities on site, including tea rooms and dining facilities, as a major local attraction for families, wedding groups and others. It complements our golf and entertainment facilities at Mannings Heath, where we are developing a wine destination, bringing in our wines from South Africa and cultivating on site a new 35-acre vineyard for English sparkling wine."
Leonardslee features a 19th-century Italianate style house, listed Grade II for architectural merit. The gardens are listed Grade I on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. They cover 200 acres of a steep sandstone valley, in which there are a series of seven man-made ponds. The site includes two alpine glasshouses, in need of refurbishment. A rock garden near the house was built in 1890 by the well-known Victorian landscaping company James Pulham and Son.
An opening date is to be announced.