WEST SUSSEX: RHS Wakehurst

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By Tim Saunders

An hour-and-a-half from our Hampshire home is RHS Wakehurst in West Sussex. Having visited RHS Wisley we thought we knew what to expect; basically lots of inspiring formal gardens. Not so here. Wakehurst is 500 acres of wild botanic gardens, which is a lovely surprise. There are plants and trees from around the world. But probably the greatest aspect of a visit here is that you can relax. Yes, even with children. We arrive at quarter past eleven having wrongly anticipated how long it would take us to travel the 65 miles. So although we have printed out our ticket for the 1030am slot I smile sheepishly and hope that will be suffice to gain entry. It is. Social distancing is easy here and facemasks only need to be worn in the toilets (although one gent doesn’t bother) and the visitor centre. We have come prepared.

It is a hot day, 33 degrees Celsius to be precise and so sweat is already dripping down us. We head off in a straight line to the lakes and there are so many wonderful tall trees that we regularly find ourselves in welcome shade as we slowly stroll. It feels as if you are walking down a country lane because the paths are tarmac but there is no traffic to worry about, which is ideal. So, while the masses are crammed onto the beaches, we are able to roam at leisure without a care. Along the way we marvel at the ever-changing landscape, up hill and down, and spot some wonderful reddy brown dragon flies that we have not seen elsewhere. Lots of them in fact. There are pleasant scents and aromas and it is a joy to the senses. This is what the holidays are about. You don’t need to jet off to some far flung destination, queuing in airport lounges and then suffering quarantine each way. Just get out and explore Britain. We are so lucky to have such a place to visit comparatively close to home. We, well I should say Caroline really, does worry, in fact it’s her favourite pastime and her particular worry on this occasion is that because we have been to a number of gardens over these holidays that the little people might get a bit bored of them. Thankfully she is proved wrong. Yes, they do begin to wilt like the finest of summer blooms when they discover that every bench we come across is already taken. But the great thing about these trips is that you never know what you will find. So as we mooch around the lakes admiring the views, in time we stumble upon a picnic area complete with benches in the shade that nobody else has found. Perfect and just in time for lunch. And as we sit, there is the welcome chirruping sound of crickets.

We don’t really walk that far today but in the sheer heat it’s quite an effort to do much walking reminding Caroline and I of holidays in Italy and Bulgaria.

After lunch we head back to another lake where we find a bench. Caroline and I are able to have a brief cuddle while the children watch the ducks. Harriett returns to us while Henry (4) and Heidi (7) amuse themselves by feeding the ducks with blackberries, which we discover are safe for them and very much loved. This occupies the ducks and the children for the best part of half an hour, if not 45 minutes. A welcome break. We then make our way up the path to another bench, this time overlooking a magnificent view with tall trees as the backdrop and a lake in front. Beside our bench is a large stone slope that Henry and Heidi enjoy throwing their empty drinks bottles down and racing against each other. They’ll make fun out of anything. And before you know it it’s time to make our way back home. We walk past a brick maze, which Harriett enjoys completing. As we head past the garden dedicated to plants from Japan we spy some beautiful maples with their autumnal looking leaves.

It is necessary to queue to get into the visitor centre from which we can exit. “I haven’t got a facemask,” says one of the visitors behind us. “I’ll make do with my hand.” Not wishing to start a lecture about hygiene and germ spreading, this scenario could have been avoided if a facemask had been presented to the visitor. Before we left home this morning, a doctor on the radio described coronavirus as “the gift that keeps giving”. When she first had it she had lost her hearing and had now regained it. But now her eyesight is failing and she has to wear glasses all the time. Just wear a facemask please.

In the visitor centre, Caroline and I make our way out to the plant centre where it is impossible for us not to leave without buying some of these wonderful plants. So we leave with three, a lovely pink one, a purple one and a chilli. I had started growing six of these only for them to be devoured by slugs and snails so I’m hoping that this much larger specimen complete with numerous flowers and chilli peppers will be established enough for any slug and snail no matter how daring, to leave well alone. It was an excellent buy at just £4.50 and its orange peppers look very striking. I shall enjoy using it in my cooking.

For more information visit: www.kew.org/wakehurst

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