The history of Nymans house and garden
There have been generations of Messels at Nymans since the 1890s. From its beginnings as a simple Regency house, Nymans has been through several transformations to become the house, ruin and garden you see today.
The Regency house
Before the Messel family lived here, Nymans was a plain Regency style house, probably built around 1839 by a man named George Harrington.
The Messel family arrive
Ludwig Messel was the first Messel to live at Nymans and, as a German émigré who had set up a successful stockbroking business, the purchase of a country estate was the ideal way for him to integrate into English society.
With his wife Annie, he bought the 600-acre Nymans estate in 1890 where he could cultivate his love of gardening, sharing it with family and friends.
Ludwig commissioned a larger Germanic-looking house, adding features such as a conservatory, billiard room, and tower. Designs were drawn up by his brother Alfred Messel, who was already a famous architect in Germany, and work was carried out by local builders.
He continued to remodel the house over a number of years and by the time Ludwig died in 1915 the house had changed again though the main structure stayed the same.
Ludwig's vision for the garden
Ludwig Messel wasn't just a plantsman, he was a designer too who carefully considered his planting schemes. He worked closely with his trusted Head Gardener James Comber.
They were a perfect partnership, with Ludwig providing the inspiration and Comber the horticultural expertise. Ludwig was passionate about plants and happy to spend vast amounts of money on his garden, working with Comber to breed new cultivars.
Together they created what is now called The Nymans Collection, which are plants raised and connected with Nymans.
A summer home
The Messel family lived predominantly at Nymans in the spring and summer months, returning to their London home in the winter, so the garden was planted to hold most interest in these months.
The famous summer borders were planted in the Edwardian period to give maximum colour impact, and they're still as flamboyant today as they were back then.
Arboretum is planted
Planting in the arboretum started in the 1890s and you can still see some of these trees today. Muriel planted the spring borders between 1904 and 1915 and they were developed further by her granddaughter Anne, Countess of Rosse.
Wisterias at Nymans
Wisterias have always played an important part in the history of Nymans. Following the Japanese Exhibition in London in 1903, it became fashionable to introduce some of the features on display into homes and gardens.
Nymans was no exception, and Ludwig installed the stone lanterns he had seen at the exhibition and built a pergola beside the croquet lawn.
Wisteria sinensis and Wisteria floribunda 'Multijuga' were planted so they could climb over the top of the structure, and some of the original plants may still exist at Nymans, though records were lost in the fire in 1947. The wisterias also suffered in the storm of 1987, when the original pergola had to be demolished.
Ludwig and Annie had six children with the eldest, Leonard, inheriting the estate in 1915.
Leonard only convinced Maud to move to the property by promising to completely redesign the look of the house yet again, so this time the house was transformed into a mock medieval mansion.
The couple started the remodelling using the architect Norman Evill, who used stone throughout.
Change of architect
However, after a disagreement halfway through the remodelling, the architect Sir Walter Tapper took over the project from Evill. He completed the house, including the impressive Great Hall, but using brick with stone facing rather than just stone.
Tapper was known for his work designing churches and this is reflected in the cathedral-like proportions of the Great Hall.
Carrying on the garden tradition
While Maud directed significant changes to the house, Leonard focused on developing Nymans’ plant collections and worked closely with James Comber to realise his plans.
The two became friends and developed Nymans’ collection of rare plants alongside Harold Comber, James's son, who became a well-respected botanist and plant collector.
Harold collected plants from the Andes and Tasmania while other plants were sourced by plant collectors Ernest Henry Wilson and George Forrest.
Creating a rose garden
A rose garden was created by Maud in the 1920s as part of her romantic vision for the planting schemes to surround the medieval style house. She filled it with herbs and old-fashioned roses, sourcing many of the plants from gardening friends, swapping cuttings and plants from a variety of rare species.
Leonard and Maud’s children Linley, Oliver and Anne spent much of their childhood at Nymans. As an adult in the 1940s and 1950s Oliver become a famous theatre designer and Anne married into the aristocracy on her marriage to the Earl of Rosse.
Her eldest son was the Earl of Snowdon, who married Princess Margaret in 1960.
Fire ravages the house
Most of the house was destroyed by fire in 1947, tragically only 19 years after the last remodelling work finished. With rationing and restrictions on building materials still in place after the end of the Second World War, it was impossible for the family to rebuild.
What survived of the house was made safe for the family to use as a base when visiting the magnificent garden.
Lord and Lady Rosse would visit here often and Anne moved back permanently in 1979 to a partially ruined house.
Explore Nymans’ medieval style manor, part house, part ruin following a devastating fire in 1947. It now offers romantic ruins and charming rooms to explore.
Romantic ruins, intimate gardens and internationally recognised plant collections all set against a backdrop of woodland and far-reaching views.
Nymans’ ancient woodland is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), nature reserve and home to a variety of plants and wildlife. Here’s what to look out for.
Join us for a Nutcracker Christmas at Nymans with an imaginative garden trail inspired by this classic tale and a house filled with dazzling festive ornaments, laid out for a sweety banquet in the Garden Hall. Meet a giant nutcracker soldier and the Sugar Plum Fairy on the 16, 17 & 18 Dec and see Matthew Bourne’s costumes from the ballet Nutcracker! on display in the Gallery. Join a family workshop for willow weaving and share photos of your day with us @NymansNT.
Browse local and artisan products at Nymans, one of the most popular National Trust bookshops, and a wide range of plants - including some grown on site in ‘The Nymans Collection’.
If you're after a meal or just a quick pit-stop, try our winter menu with freshly prepared food inspired by the season. Quick snacks and delicious cakes prepared by our chefs are always popular too, especially after a walk in the woodland or garden.
Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.