“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” Those were the words of Albert Camus and they certainly ring true in East Sussex.
Darker, cooler days don’t mean we have to stop enjoying the great countryside we are lucky enough to enjoy in our county – autumn colours bring a new and spectacular opportunity to marvel at nature. And none more so than at the 250 acres of Sheffield Park Garden near Nutley.
Well-known for its astonishing displays of spring azaleas and rhododendrons, Sheffield Park was actually planted out for autumn. October is the time to pay the park a visit if you want to enjoy a bounty of reds, oranges, purples and yellows from a range of trees and shrubs, but especially the acers. In fact, catch a sunny day and those acer red leaves are almost unreal in their brilliance.
To celebrate its autumn beauty the park, owned and managed by the National Trust, has put up special display boards giving visitors information about the plants to look out for and where to find them to enjoy autumn colours at their best. And from now until mid-November it has early opening hours to give visitors the chance to catch the colours.
For keen photographers wanting to capture the autumn palette and reflections from the various lakes in the park, there are even a couple of special photography workshops.
Sheffield Park may be famous for its plants, lakes and spectacular views but it has a fascinating history too. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the park played host to Henry VIII in the 16th century. By 1700, the deer park had been partially formalised by Lord De La Warr who planted avenues of trees radiating from the house and cleared areas to establish lawns.
In the late 1700s the house was remodelled and the garden was given a major redesign by arguably this country’s most influential and famous landscape designer, Capability Brown. The original four lakes still form the centrepiece of the park with trees selected for autumn colour, and azaleas and rhododendrons giving the vista an equally impressive display in spring. It is home to the National Collection of Ghent azaleas.
By 1885, an arboretum was being established at the park, consisting of both exotic and native trees and after Arthur Gilstrap Soames purchased the estate in 1910, he continued large-scale planting.
During World War II the house and garden became the headquarters for a Canadian armoured division, and the estate was split up and sold in lots in 1953. The National Trust bought the park and has managed it since.
One little known fact is that in 1876 the Earl of Sheffield laid out a cricket pitch on the estate and it was apparently used on 12 May 1884 for the first cricket match between England and Australia. The Australian team won by an innings and 6 runs!
So if you’re tempted to feel glum as the warmth and fun of summer disappears and gives way to damp, chillier days, don’t be dismayed. All across East Sussex gardens and woodlands still have an autumn display for us to get out and enjoy. And Sheffield Park Gardens is a great place to start.
For more information about Sheffield Park Gardens visit the National Trust website