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Ode to autumn: a Victorian garden is returned to its handsome roots

How the naturalistic gardens at Gravetye Manor were restored with a vibrant nod to their past

The gardener William Robinson, Gravetye Manor’s most notable owner, once wrote that if you arranged hardy, handsome plants “with some judgment at first… the owner might go away for 10 years; and find it more beautiful than ever on his return”. Current head gardener Tom Coward might disagree; he has been in the job nearly a decade and is only now starting to see the garden restored to its former glory.

Coward arrived from Great Dixter house and gardens in 2010, when Gravetye’s current owners took over, and discovered there was a lot to do. The historic house and garden, in West Hoathly, Sussex, had fallen into disrepair: “Seedlings were appearing in the borders, and the kitchen garden had such a weed problem, it was a case of having to dig it up and start again,” says Coward, who trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and RHS garden Wisley. But despite its problems, the garden “was clearly beautiful”, he says.

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