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The garden at Alfriston Clergy House

Poppies and other flowers are seen growing in the garden at Alfriston Clergy House East Sussex
Poppies in the garden at Alfriston Clergy House East Sussex | © National Trust Images/Gary Cosham

Sir Robert Witt, co-founder of both the National Art Collections Fund and the Courtauld Institute of Art, was the property's tenant from 1907 to his death in 1952. Sir Robert and his wife Lady Mary were largely the garden that you see today. During the time of his tenancy, it was popular to see the garden as an extension of the house and so gardens often appeared as a series of intimately linked rooms surrounded by hedges and trellis, the concept of ‘garden rooms’. Each ‘room’ often had a theme and a title as they do here at Alfriston.

Garden features

The Witts terraced the garden toward the river and created the brickwork paths that lead around the garden rooms. During a walk around the garden, you will see many different amphora and large urns, which were brought to the property by Sir Robert Witt. According to a letter by his son John, these amphora and urns were brought back from Naples by his father on his various excursions. They bring a Mediterranean feel to a typical cottage garden.

Garden rooms

Italian garden

This part of the garden is laid out in an "Italianate-style" with formal yew hedges and tightly clipped box trees providing an evergreen structure and at the centre sits a sundial. The sundial rests on a balustrade of London's old Waterloo Bridge.

The orchard

This is the only part of the garden that predates the purchase of the house and garden by the National Trust. The orchard is planted with old and rare varieties of apples such as 'Charles Ross' 'Monarch' ‘Crawley Beauty’, and the Alfriston apple.

‘Tiny but beautiful, with an orchard and a sweep of lowland river behind it’

– Octavia Hill, National Trust founder

Other notable trees in the orchard include a Mulberry and a Medler.

The orchard in July at Alfriston Clergy House, East Sussex
The orchard in July at Alfriston Clergy House | © National Trust Images/Marianne Majerus

Sunken garden

Another of the areas laid out by the Witts. The large terracotta urn was placed in the garden by Sir Robert in the 1920s, bought back from his travels overseas to Naples. It is home to a large decorative lead water cistern that dates to 1788.

Vegetable garden

Organic principles guide us in the growing of our produce. Our approach is to disturb the soil a minimum amount in the cultivation of our vegetables, allowing the life in the soil to flourish which creates healthy and resilient crops. Our home-made compost is used as a thick mulch on the beds every winter. We grow beneficial, flowering plants alongside the vegetables, which bring in pollinators and deter predators away from the vegetables. Nasturtiums attract aphids away from broad beans and alliums ward off carrot root fly. During the harvesting season visitors can buy the home grown produce.

Sundial surrounded by topiary yew hedges at Alfriston Clergy House, East Sussex
Sundial surrounded by topiary yew hedges at Alfriston Clergy House | © National Trust Images/Marianne Majerus

Herbaceous borders

The roses in the borders have been chosen for their perfume and are a mix of albas, gallicas, bourbons, rugosas and hybrid musks. They are underplanted with campanulas and other cottage garden favourites.

The west-facing front of the 14th-century timber-framed Alfriston Clergy House, East Sussex. The deep eaves of the thatched roof cast shade on to light-coloured walls. Crosses of an old graveyard lie in front.

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