Gardening with style

Gardening with style

This intimate and romantic garden of Denmans is a true hidden gem. Memories of the plantswoman Joyce Robinson and the world famous garden designer John Brookes are all over this beautiful place,


The libraries have partially opened, hooray! Like many others I am desperate for books having been starved during lockdown. One of the ordered books for which I have been waiting is ‘Glorious Disarray‘ by Joyce Robinson. In it she describes how she created the garden at Denmans, tucked away in the south-sloping edge of the glorious South Downs, not far from the sea. It is now one of the best gardens here in West Sussex. Join me for a quick visit.

Lawn and flower borders at Denmans Garden.

Denmans Garden

In 1947 Joyce Robinson and her husband bought Denmans which had been a large private estate before the War. At first they turned it into a market garden, but in later years Joyce began to develop an ornamental garden.

In her brief chapters full of helpful notes and details you can hear the voice of a skilled plantswoman with a lifetime’s experience with plants.  Beginning with a very run-down old estate we follow her ups and downs as she brings order and beauty, building what she called her ‘Glorious disarray’. 

Lawn with beautiful flower borders beyond at Denmans Garden.
Joyce’s ‘Denmans’ cottage.

John Brookes and garden design

Another library book I had ordered is John Brookes’ new version of his ‘Small Garden‘. It reflects John’s reputation for introducing the elements of design into small city gardens. Many garden designers owe much to John’s teaching. His influence can be seen in many modern garden designs at Chelsea and other flower shows. He was master of small garden design, especially the stylish minimal look of contemporary gardens. The very well illustrated book is a town or city dweller’s handbook full of ideas for making much of a limited space.

Denmans Garden
David Anstiss / Towards the Clock House, in Denmans Garden / CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1970 John Brookes discovered Denmans through the National Garden Scheme and fell in love with the garden. Encouraged by Joyce Robinson, he moved into the old ‘Clock House‘ and set up his ‘Clock House’ garden design school. He also began working with Joyce re-designing the garden. After Joyce’s death in 1996 John took over the whole garden.

Attractive scene in Denmans Garden, West Sussex.
Gracefully shaped lawn and gravel path entice the visitor to the next part of the garden. Denmans Cottage is in the background. Gravel paths are everywhere. Joyce started using gravel and John developed the idea. No doubt Beth Chatto, who knew John well, used the same idea in her, now famous, gravel garden in Essex.
Lawn and shrub border at Denmans Garden

John’s first book ‘The room outside‘ was followed by many others. He became an influential garden designer appearing regularly on TV garden programmes and designing gardens all over the world. 

Looking into the exotic greenhouse at Denmans.
Who can resist looking into a conservatory well stocked with interesting exotic plants.
Shady lawn under ornamental trees at Denmans Garden, West Sussex.
A typical design layout of John Brookes – long grass mown into geometric circular shape with a well-chosen piece of statuary

The garden ran into financial difficulties and for a time had to be closed, shortly before John died in 2018. But rtecently it has been bought by a new owner under a new Trust and re-opened to the public.We will watch with interest as this third stage in this garden’s history develops. We wish it well.

Thank you Joyce and John for leaving us with this lovely garden. By the way, three cheers for public libraries and for books too!

10 thoughts on “Gardening with style

  1. Richard – Thank you for yet another informative and soothing Listening Heart blog. I’ve been to Denmans several times in the past and hadn’t paid attention to the origins of the garden so your background information is so interesting. It would be very special if the garden is given a new lease of life by the new owner. We pray he/she will be inspirational and continue the ethos of the garden established by Joyce Robinson and John Brookes. You have whetted my appetite to return which I shall look forward to doing so in the near future. Sue


    1. Sue, my own photos were taken in John Brookes’ time. No doubt things will have moved on now. I hope you do manage to get to Denmans and report on how the new owner, Gwendolyn, is getting on. I heard her speaking about the task ahead on ‘Garden Masterclass’ on youtube. Very interesting.


    1. There’s something delightful about a garden that is maturing, with some wildness creeping in at the edges. The balance between the manicured tidiness and the natural is hard to maintain. I hope they get it right at Denmans. I wonder how your Park is looking at present, Andrea. We’re very dry here.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Denmans is a peaceful garden. No doubt even better in the evening light when all of the visitors have gone home. It has plenty of take-home ideas for our own gardens .That was always John Brookes’ aim.


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