Fantastic news - Leonardslee Gardens is to reopen. This world-class Sussex visitor attraction has been sorely missed by garden enthusiasts and countryside lovers since it closed seven years ago, and I can tell you the local area has been abuzz since the latest news began to filter out. We noticed the 'Sold' board a while back and then heard more in a nearby village shop (yes, village shops really are community hubs) - it's been bought by the owners of Mannings Heath Golf Club and Wine Estate, and they plan to restore and reopen the fabulous gardens.
Speculation is rife as to how much work that will entail and how well the last owners might have maintained it, or not. There was real sadness when the Loder family sold up - word was that it might become a conference venue then, but it seemed more like someone's secret hideout or just an investment, though clearly something went wrong as the latest sale is reported to have involved receivers. For sure the gates banged shut in 2010; a strange move for a place that attracted some 50,000 visitors every year.
Leonardslee is one of the great woodland gardens. Its whole 200 acres are always gorgeous but spring and early summer are peak season, with their stunning displays of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, magnolias and of course, bluebells. The landscaping is reminiscent of their natural habitat - deep Himalayan valleys - with a string of man-made ponds originally created for the local ironworking industry. There's a grade 2-listed house, a fascinating dolls' house collection and even a herd of wallabies, but the gardens were always the main attraction.
There is some mountain mist surrounding the possible re-opening date but it's currently believed to be next spring, so watch this space. And for the sake of balance I should mention that there are two wine estates in Mannings Heath alone, let alone the rest of Sussex, while the nearby Bolney winery recently won a national award.