I’m a girl who’s into gardens in a big way. Plants and flowers make me incredibly happy- it doesn’t matter if they’re the wild and untamed sort you come across on nature walks, or the beautifully curated kind in somebody’s manicured border. A flower is a flower in my eyes and I love them all, which is why, when I made the amazing discovery that I live a mere ten minutes away from a real Victorian mansion surrounded by 90 acres of grounds, including pleasure gardens, woodland, a walled vegetable garden and flower meadows, well, it was time to hop in the car and make a day of it.
The gardens at Fairlight Hall are stunning and yesterday was a real treat- it was the first of three Open Days where visitors can wander around the grounds, breathing in the delicate scent of spring flowers in bloom, enjoy a slice of cake and a cup of tea and- on a clear day- enjoy the views that look out all the way to Dungeness.
The main house and gardens are accessed via a long pathway lined with tall ferns, wellingtonia, acer trees, monkey puzzles and windmill palm trees- it all feels rather Jurassic. At the end of the path, the sandstone mock Tudor Hall appears, with turrets and stone statues aplenty. To the left, in the woodland, is a fishing boat where children can play, to the right, The Ha Ha Border, a secret herbaceous path, leading to an aviary of white peacocks.
To the back of the house, the Long Border is filled with herbaceous annuals and perennials such as aquilegia, geranium, salvia, delphinium and allium, plus shrubs and climbing roses.
Near to the stables is the walled vegetable garden and nursery, complete with cold frames, hot house, bee hives and a 40,000 litre subterranean rainwater collection tank, plus an amphitheatre which boasts views to the sea, where recitals and concerts take place.
The whole effect is thoroughly enchanting. Did I mention the pond filled with tadpoles and the three powder blue cottages, nestled into a little nook surrounded by trees and shrubs? The Hall’s chickens live there. Lucky devils.
The Hall was designed by John Crake, the architect of Hyde Park Gardens and a pupil of the co-creator of St Leonards-on-Sea, our very own renowned Regency architect, Decimus Burton. The Hall itself isn't open to the public as it's the family home, but it sits comfortably at the top of the hill, resplendent as mansions disguised as castles always are, the perfect backdrop for such exquisitely splendid grounds and a fine prospect for anyone looking out of their windows in the valley beneath.
Usually the gardens have one Open Day in late summer, but this year there are to be three- the next one is on 20th July and will raise funds for St Michael’s Hospice, who provide palliative care and bereavement support across Hastings and Rother and is a charity dear to the residents of Hastings and St Leonards hearts. The third Open Day will be on 14th September, with all funds raised going to support Ore in Bloom, a local community scheme who work tirelessly to keep the village of Ore looking beautiful.
Fairlight Hall are much more than just picturesque gardens though- we spoke to Sarah Kowitz, owner of the Hall, who told us that ‘we have a lot of fundraising events throughout the year, including the Open Gardens, to support local charities. Our estate has been Soil Association Certified since 2002 and we grow all our produce organically, which we then sell in our little shop. Anything left over we use ourselves as we try to be as self-sustainable as possible’
Fairlight Hall are also home to an incredible charity- one of the newest Riding for the Disabled groups in the South East, complete with facilities that include an outdoor riding school and access to the local bridleways of nearby Hastings Country Park. Horses are pretty magical creatures in our humble opinion, which is a view the RDA share.
They recognise that horses can provide life-enhancing therapy to people with disabilities, autism, progressive illnesses, mental health issues and people who are recovering from accidents or trauma. But it’s not just the horses offering their furry, therapeutic services- Fairlight Hall are home to Bernie the Alpaca and Barney the Llama… or is that the other way around? Even Simon, the Head Grounds Keeper who has looked after them for 15 years isn’t sure which one is which!
For more information about Fairlight Hall, their Open Days, events happening throughout the year and RDA facilities please visit www.fairlighthall.co.uk