Autumn's honeyed light
PUBLISHED: 16:23 24 November 2006 | UPDATED: 14:46 20 February 2013
A mixture of modern sculpture and temples set against an autumnal backdrop await visitors to Bignor Park House. Leigh Clapp tells us what to expect...
THE new season's bonfire of colour adds a special shimmer to the 11 acres of garden at Bignor Park House near Petworth. This is the 60th year it has been open to the public and visitors are offered a woodland walk, a patarre Dutch garden, sculpture and displays of decorative gourds.
You are assured of a warm welcome from Lord and Lady Mersey. "I think it is the setting and views of the South Downs that make Bignor Park, says Lady Mersey. "I want people to enjoy the views and garden, to get inspiration or relax on one of the many seats.
"Spending time to chat with visitors is a pleasure, people are so friendly. I like to make people smile and to have surprises for children like the secret wooden house or the contemporary sculptures."
A look at the past
Originally part of the Arundel Estate, the Dukes of Norfolk used the grounds of the park to fatten their deer. The only remaining parts of the first small house are two Coad stone pinnacles at the west end of the walled garden.
In the early 19th century, John Hawkins, a Cornish tin miner, bought the estate as an addition to his main property at Trewithen, and built the house in the 1820s using architect Henry Harrison.
Hawkins had an interest in horticulture, inspired by doing the grand tour as well as visits further afield to the Greek Islands. He bought some marbles, called steles, from Samothrace and they can be seen in a small pavilion at the east end of the formal garden.
This interest in antiquities may have contributed to Hawkins involvement with the excavation of the nearby Roman Villa, which was discovered by farmer George Tupper in1812 and is still owned and run by the Tupper family. In 1926 Lord Mersey's grandfather bought Bignor Park with his parents taking over in 1959.
Through the garden gate
An expanse of undulating landscape greets you as you enter the garden. Contemporary seagull sculptures by Geoffrey Stinton provide unusual focal points and then the eye is drawn to a distant temple proudly standing on a mound. It was built in1992 to commemorate Lord Mersey's mother's 80th birthday and in spring is surrounded by a sea of daffodils. Here there is a woodland of cedars, hickory, sorbus, camellias and rhododendrons and from the far end a beautiful view of the Downs with Chanctonbury Ring.