Worthing’s world-famous gardens at Highdown have received a major boost with the award of Lottery funding to help preserve their future. The gardens, internationally important because they are home to hundreds of rare and exotic plants and trees uniquely grown on chalk soil, are visited by tens of thousands of people every year.
Worthing Borough Council, which owns and maintains the gardens, has now successfully applied for Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) money to develop a long-term survival plan for the landmark which is open free to the public. The Fund has awarded almost £100,000 to the Council to develop a new plan for the 8.5 acre-gardens which will include;
- Action to preserve plants which could be crucial to stopping extremely rare specimens becoming extinct
- The establishment of breeding processes to ensure the survival of the rare plants.
- The building of a new visitor centre to tell the story of the gardens and its surrounding landscape
- Plans to tell the fascinating story of the originator of the gardens, Sir Frederick Stern, and his contribution to worldwide horticulture
- Proposals to develop community ownership of the gardens through a full volunteer programme
“Jewel in our crown”
Worthing Borough Council’s Executive Member for the Environment, Cllr Diane Guest, said; “I’m delighted to hear about the award of HLF Stage One money. Highdown Gardens is a jewel in our crown and I think the Council can be justifiably proud of our work keeping Sir Frederick Stern’s legacy intact. However this money will allow us to develop a plan which will preserve the future of Highdown, its important plant collection and increase enjoyment for the tens of thousands of visitors who enjoy the gardens every year.”
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. Chalky soils are notoriously difficult to grow on. 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.
Bringing the story to life
He left the gardens to the Council after his death in 1967. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the Council taking ownership. Now the authority wants to bring the story of the gardens to life and begin plans to create an archive of all materials, letters and, plant records concerning Stern’s project for the use of garden researchers and visitors.
Plans are also being developed to catalogue the number of different species in the garden, protect the valuable plants from damage, improve disabled access, extend opening hours in the summer, rebuild the greenhouses and provide interactive displays for families. The Council now has a year to bring together more research and costing for the projects, involve partners and then submit a full second round application for the full cost of the scheme.