Reinventing Borde Hill with Jay Goddard and Harry Baldwin

This week Rachael Forsyth speaks to Borde Hill's managing director Jay Goddard, and head of horticulture Harry Baldwin.

Borde Hill, a country garden set with in 383 acres of heritage-listed parkland in West Sussex is celebrating its 130th anniversary.

Jay is the fifth generation of the Stevenson Clarke familly and she spent an her childhood in that idyllic setting. After a period away during which she developed a career in corporate PR and marketing, she has moved back to the estate with her young family to take care of the gardens, first established in 1893 by Colonel Clarke.

Harry brings experience from Kew background with specialism in trees and history. He speaks about the extensive Borde Hill archive which has artefacts, drawings, photos and letters from plant hunters writing to the Colonel. It "keeps everyone on their toes...telling us more and more about our special garden", Harry says.

And there are still plants hidden to be discovered: 

"Every now and again, we're finding new old garden diaries which are detailing plant names, some of which, these plants no longer are sadly with us, but there are plants still hidden away in those crevices waiting to be found, which of course then informs us about propagation and then sharing that material with other important gardens."

The garden recently drew the attention of Adam Frost who came to explore some of that plant history to be featured on BBC Gardeners' World and BBC Radio 4's Gardener's Question Time also paid a visit yielding questions on more contemporary gardening preoccupations.

Jay explains how she plans to carry forward the legacy of her parents (who collaborated with Chris Beardshaw and Sophie Walker) to try and "connect communities more closely with nature ... there's so much written now and so much research that shows the mental and physical benefits of being outdoors in nature" which forms part of the "hugely ambitious" Reinventing Borde Hill project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

A key part of this involves opening up the South Lodge entrance which will  that will enable people to walk or cycle from Hayward's Heath station [the largest commuter rail station in the South East] to Borde Hill.

"It will make Borde hill one of the few Sussex Gardens that will be accessible via green transport in terms of foot or bicycle", Harry explains.

Enhancements to the heritage-listed landscape must be sensitively implemented and include improving existing paths and building an 'eco lodge as a community hub offering swimming, yoga, walking trails and other mindful activities. Jay also hopes to encourage younger generations to learn the well-being and educational benefits of enjoying the great outdoors via a dedicated learning space in Dinosaur Wood.

As a tree specialist, Harry is excited about the work preserve and propagate the champion trees, including the Lyriodendron chinensei "that was only really kind of discovered by the West in about 100 years ago and was propagated by seeds collected by Ernest Wilson for the Colonel.

"What I really want to get across to the visitor is there's always so much more than just a flower or ornamental value. There's a whole back story about how these plants came into cultivation and have been used medicinally, they've been used ethnopotentically for so many, many years.

Harry also tells the tale of the Emonopteris henryi,  first brought back from China by Ernest Wilson, and vaunted as "the most beautiful, most proliferous and fragrant tree of the Chinese forest".

But the tree did not flower for 3 generations: "It actually flowered almost 100 years later in 2011, which is a real curiosity. No one really knows why it's taken so long to flower in a British climate."

The tree was selected as the key species in the rebranding for Borde Hill "as a demonstration of celebrating that heritage, but really thinking about how we stay fresh and relevant for the future", and it is central to one of the garden's missions to preserve rare species for future generations.

Presenter: HortWeek senior reporter Rachael Forsyth
Producer: HortWeek digital content manager Christina Taylor

Make sure you never miss a Horticulture Week podcast! Subscribe to or Follow Horticulture Week podcasts via Apple PodcastsSpotify or Google Podcasts or your preferred podcast platform. 

Read These Next