Worthing's Highdown Gardens wins crucial funding to preserve future and tell full amazing story of world-famous landmark
Celebrations are underway today after Worthing's world-famous gardens at Highdown received a major financial boost to help preserve their future.
The National Lottery has awarded the ‘jewel in the crown’ site more than £800,000 for a project which will help save the exotic rare plants that grow there and to enhance the visitor experience.
The 8.5 acre gardens, internationally important because they are home to hundreds of rare plants and trees uniquely grown on chalk soil, are visited by tens of thousands of people every year.
Worthing Borough Council has owned and maintained the gardens free-of-charge to visitors for more than 50 years since the death of their creator Sir Frederick Stern.
Now the cash injection will enable garden experts to catalogue, preserve and propagate the hundreds of rare species that grow on the slopes on Highdown Hill.
In addition the old garden bungalow on the site is to be remodelled and turned into a visitors’ centre, new walkways are to be created and the full astonishing story of the house and gardens to be told. A new wheelchair accessible sensory garden will also be created.
Work on the project will start next year with a finish date in 2022. The gardens will remain open for all but a few months of this time.
Worthing Borough Council's Executive Member for the Environment, Cllr Edward Crouch, said, “I’m so pleased we have been successful in winning this much-needed funding for our jewel in the crown site. We have a proud history of maintaining the gardens and people will no doubt be delighted to know that we will be maintaining free-of-charge entry while extending its appeal to different members of our community.
“Critically, we shall be protecting the horticultural heritage for generations to come, just as Stern wished when he gifted the gardens to the people of Worthing back in 1968.”
Sir Frederick moved to Highdown Towers, now a hotel and restaurant, in 1909 and began a project to expand and develop a garden using exotic plants brought back from places such as China and Bhutan by intrepid hunters.
Highdown was designated a National Collection in 1989 to recognise that Sir Frederick had proved something most experts told him he could not; to grow plants on terrain with just a few inches of soil above chalk.
Today, the main risk to the heritage at Highdown Gardens is horticultural: loss of plants due to age, the fragility of the chalk environment given climate change.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund award of more than £800,000 to the Council will allow the Council’s Highdown staff to :
- Undertake a propagation programme to save the endangered National Plant Collection (threatened by climate change, disease, visitor behaviour);
- Convert the old gardener’s bungalow into a visitor engagement centre where previously hidden stories about the Sterns, the gardens, their visitors and the plants can be told;
- Partner with the West Sussex Records Office to digitise and make freely available the important archive of Stern’s life work;
- Improve access with accessible pathways, extended opening hours and a wheelchair-accessible Sensory Garden;
- Develop new activities and resources to encourage a love and respect for this fragile environment;
- Partner with local schools, colleges, community groups and mental health charities to support volunteering, social and well-being activities in the gardens.
With this £800,000 second round award following A first round award of £96,500 to help with development costs, the Heritage Fund has now invested more than £900,000 of Lottery players’ money in Highdown Gardens