Group travel organisers recently visited Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens in West Sussex for a preview of the estate’s 2021 programme.
The gardens reopened to the public in 2019 after nearly being lost following years of neglect. There has been extensive restoration, which is ongoing, to protect and conserve the heritage site for future generations.
Gwen Wright, who organises trips for the Arts Society, Cranleigh Branch and was one of this year’s GTO of the Year® finalists, was among those who attended the GTO preview event. She said: “I loved it. They have done such a terrific job of the restoration and there’s so much to offer for groups.
“The gardens offer so much pleasure year-round. I had booked for this year and have now rebooked for May 2021 - I have booked guided tours as these will lift the whole experience.”
Marian Durbidget, Herts Theatre Club and Go Together Travel Club, also attended and said: “The colours of the trees were lovely and it was super to get out for a day and go somewhere else!
“We visited with our group last year in May and the colours of the huge and I enormous rhododendrons are amazing many of them having a scent which is unusual for this species.
“We finished with a lunch and talk and slides with the head gardener at the nearby golf club. I am in the process of booking for next year in May again.”
The gardens are set in a valley and offer visitors a variety of scenic walks around seven interlaced lakes and through woodlands and parkland.
There is a Pulham rock garden built-in 1890, a deer park and a colony of wallabies that wander throughout Leonardslee.
Estate manager, Adam Streeter, said: “Covid-19 has been hugely disruptive of course but we are determined to provide entertainment 12 months of the year and are booking a full programme for 2021, with music, fairs, food festivals and other events for tour groups and other visitors.
“The gardens are a major attraction year-round, as well as our cafés and popular wine tastings, and Michelin-starred Restaurant Interlude.”
Head gardener Stephen Herrington was on hand at the GTO Preview event to explain more.
He said: “Trees and plants have been collected from all over the world since the mid-1800s. The collection is exceptional in its diversity and maturity, with several rare ‘champion’ trees, threatened in their natural habitat.
“We have planted tens of thousands of wild flowers too to ensure year-round displays for visitors to enjoy.”
Other highlights for groups
- Look out for rare wildlife such as Emperor Dragonflies and Damselflies, White Admiral and Purple Hairstreak butterflies and migratory and native birds - Kites, Great Tits, Tree Creepers, Nuthatches, Woodpeckers and Nightingales.
- Visitors can see a dolls house exhibition that depicts the Edwardian era estate and neighbouring villages at 1:12 scale.
- Afternoon tea can be enjoyed in the Grade II Listed mansion house and Restaurant Interlude offers a multi-course tasting menu under award-winning chef Jean Delport.
An estimated visit time is two-four hours and group sizes are usually 10-60. Guided tours are available by arrangement and coach parking is free with free entry and a meal voucher for drivers.