Robinson’s Gravetye Manor Garden

 In Gardening for Wildlife, Gardens Visited, Greenhouse Growing, Naturalistic garden, Visit Britain

Robinson’s Gravetye Manor Garden has left a legacy of one of our most influential garden designers. It’s a garden that has been long on my bucket list!

In May of this year we managed to visit Robinson’s Gravetye Manor Garden in south east England.


Gravetye Manor garden, white Camassia, Azaleas

The Gardens wrap around the old Manor House


Limited Access

The magnificent manor house is now a high quality hotel and Robinson’s Gravetye Manor garden surrounds it.

Tucked away well off the road and down a long wooded drive, the garden is set in beautiful bucolic countryside.

Surprisingly, the garden is not open to all. That pleasure is restricted to the hotel guests. Nevertheless if you book a meal there, you may be lucky enough to enjoy a stroll around the gardens. Details of the hotel can be found here.

My wife Felicity and I did just that.  In fact we had tea in the comfort of the older part of the hotel.

The hotel is set in 1000 acres of undulating farm and woodland near East Grinstead in West Sussex.

The garden is wrapped around the old manor house and extends to about 35 acres.



William Robinson

Gravetye Hotel and Garden

House and Garden

Robinson was a very successful gardener, garden designer and writer.

This success enabled him to purchase Gravetye Manor and surrounding land and he developed his gardening ideas here.

His roots were in County Laois, Ireland but his career successes enabled him to buy this magnificent estate.

The garden allowed him to develop his ideas of planting a garden that looked natural. In many ways he was ahead of his time. With the current interest in re-wilding and the debate about wild gardens he was very much ahead of his time. In fact he coined the term ‘wild garden’.

Learn more about William Robinson and his life in a Garden Media Guild award winning podcast!

The podcast is the Gardeners’ Corner Special presented by BBC Ulster’s David  Maxwell here.

As President of the Horticultural Trades Association I presented this award last November in The Savoy Hotel in London.



Formal Gardens and Terraces

Terraces were created on this sloping site with stone retaining walls.

Mixed planting garden

Terraced garden with mixed planting

Some are terraces are paved and others are simply laid to lawns.

All areas are filled with a mixture of shrubs, trees and herbaceous perennials.

These mixed borders, which we now accept as the norm, was another garden design idea that Robinson created.






Productive Walled Garden

Gravetye walled garden, step-over apples, vegetables, fruit

Step-over apple trees in the walled garden

Behind the main house and on a south facing slope there is a very productive walled garden. This is an unusual shape as it’s an ellipse. Apparently an ellipse shape avoids cold shaded and unproductive areas.

At the time of my visit almost every piece was planted or sown.

Clearly, a lot of the fruit and vegetables produced here are consumed by hotel guests.

Fruit trees are trained against the walls, vegetables are grown in rows and even flowers are grown to be cut for the hotel!

A person planting in a garden, bean plants, pea plants

Peas planted from rainwater gutters

I noticed that a succession of peas and beans were sown under cover in rainwater gutters. These are filled with compost and then plants are slid out into trenches in the walled garden. This neat trick reduces seed and plant losses from birds, slugs and snails.







The Orchard

Beyond the more formal gardens there is a large orchard.

Trees in the orchard were in full bloom when I visited.

Bee hives are also located in the orchard to ensure good pollination.

Under the half standard fruit trees the grass was allowed to grow long and was full of wildflowers. I noticed lots of wild orchids thriving amongst the fruit trees!

Orchard, wildflowers and woodland beyond

Orchard, wildflowers and woodland beyond

Also flowering at the time of my visit were masses of blue flowered Camassia.

If you’d like to know more about naturalising Camassia then read my blog here!

I’ve also written about other bulbs that are suitable for naturalising here.

The grass is left long and uncut until late summer. This clearly encouraged wildflowers to spread and to flourish. I’m sure that if Robinson could see the orchard today he would approve!





The Nursery and Head Gardener.

Tom Coward, watering can and cold frame

Head Gardener Tom Coward

Above the orchard there is a collection of glasshouses and cold frames.

Here I met the head gardener Tom Coward who explained that he is always balancing the demands of supplying the hotel with fresh food, keeping the garden looking great and being true to William Robinson’s plans. He has clearly succeeded!

Greenhouse, plants in greenhouse, Vinery greenhouse, glasshouse

Vinery greenhouse

In the traditional greenhouse I spotted a great collection of less hardy Salvia plants.

In others there were fan trained peach trees loaded with developing fruits.

All the cold frames were full of seedlings and plants destined to fill gaps in the main borders.

Tom has a particular interest in Dahlia. He has raised several from seed and he generously gave us one to grow on in our garden.


I’m really grateful to the Gravetye Hotel for giving us access to their beautiful gardens.

If you get the chance to visit then I’m confident that you’ll too enjoy the beautiful gardens.

I hope that you too will see just how successful William Robinson was and that he was a man ahead of his times. He is justifiably called the father of wild gardening.


Other great garden nearby

Borde Hill Gardens is not far away and is well worth a visit. I wrote about my visit here. Borde Hill has a magnificent collection of Magnolia trees and bushes. If you’re interested in Magnolia you may care to read about my visit to see them at World famous Kew Gardens.

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