7 reasons to visit Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens
Ancient, verdant, and beautiful, these 240 acres of jaw-dropping woodland gardens offer far more than just flowers. Here's why Leonardslee is top of our to-visit list.
It’s Grade 1 listed!
That’s the highest rating of significance — no messing around here! And it’s not hard to see why, what with stunning displays of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, magnolias and bluebells, and a long history as ancient woodland. Naturally acidic soil allows for some especially bright flowers to flourish, and also explains why the land was never put to agricultural use. The 240-acre gardens date back to the early 1800s, and in 2019 were the subject of the largest garden restoration in England (and possibly Europe!) after having grown wild. So, we still feel rather lucky to get to visit…
The Michelin-starred restaurant
Forget claggy paninis in a woodland café: Restaurant Interlude is an all-stops-pulled, Michelin-starred, fine-dining experience. Now this is how we like to be treated! Ingredients are either foraged from the woodland gardens or ethically sourced from local farms, and dishes are as creative and beautiful as they are delicious. It’s a full-blown love letter to seasonal, natural eating.
If you don’t want the full dining experience, you can also enjoy an absolutely phenomenal afternoon tea in the hotel’s drawing room, curated by Restaurant Interlude’s head chef. This is just as gorgeous and delicious as you might expect: perfect finger sandwiches, fresh-baked scones, a cake trolley… and knockout garden views to boot. We’ll take ours with Champagne, please.
Show-stopping flowers and serene atmosphere not enough for you? Here, we’ll throw in a contemporary art exhibition, too. Leonardslee’s Sculpture Park showcases a trail of over eighty pieces of sculpture by artist Anton Smit, signifying different stages in his life. Designed in harmony with the woodland gardens, the pieces are specifically positioned to create new vistas across the valley and alongside the seven lakes. Each one is quietly effective, and totally adds to the quiet magic of the woods.
Wine tasting (AKA our favourite thing)
In 2018, the UK’s first commercial Pinotage vineyard was planted at Leonardslee, a verdant four acres of Pinot Noir and Pinotage grapes. That’s cool and all, but the really cool bit is that Leonardslee now offers a range of wine tasting experiences, so you can sip and savour amongst all that picturesque scenery. And they’re amazing value, too: £7 for a self-led wine tasting experience, or £10 for a tutored session.
Did you know that wallabies are actually native to rural Sussex? Okay, that’s nonsense (but you could have a laugh telling it to your kids), which is why it’s so mad that Leonardslee has a full blown wallaby population and breeding program. They’re just there, hopping amongst the ancient English oaks! And yes, we can confirm, wallabies are positively adorable. They’re also just the tip of the huge iceberg of wildlife that ranges free in Leonardslee Gardens, from delicate butterflies to grumpy badgers. You can see Sika and Fallow deer in the 70 acre deer park, or put on your birdwatching binoculars to spot some of the critically endangered species still enjoying the unspoilt habitat here. (Marsh tits, spotted flycatchers, and grey wagtails, to name but a few).
The jam-packed schedule of events
It’s all happening in Leonardslee! Assuming the aforementioned stunning gardens, art, food, wine, yada yada, doesn’t seal the deal, then how about a slew of engaging events put on throughout the year? You can take a peek at the upcoming list for the full breakdown, or we’ve picked out a few that have already tickled our fancy. Namely: National Children’s Gardening Week (28 May – 5 June) to get the kids inspired and planting over half term; the vintage-themed Floral Fringe Fair (4-5 June) for craft and food stalls as well as wildlife care tips; and a dance adaptation of The Secret Garden (18 June). Very apt!
Um… you never have to leave?
Okay, financial realities and life commitments aside (LET ME HAVE THIS), you could feasibly stay forever in the beautiful ten-bed, Grade II listed hotel. It’s certainly tempting: a 19th-century Italianate style house, all secluded within the afore-mentioned bonkers-beautiful gardens. Each bedroom is individually styled — perfect excuse to try them all out?
Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens, Lower Beeding, Horsham, RH13 6PP