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Jay Goddard on the Importance of Borde Hill

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Borde Hill Garden Festival Overview

This month, the Borde Hill Garden Festival will return on 22-23 June. Offering the perfect day out for families, friends, and garden enthusiasts alike, the festival will include over 40 beautifully curated independent stalls selling planters, garden furniture, lifestyle trends, and artisan accessories alongside rare and unusual plants from national specialist nurseries.

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Guests will also enjoy eclectic live music on the South Lawn, explore curated talks from leading garden designers and experts, and discover irresistible flavors from Sussex’s best pop-ups.

Here, Director Jay Goddard explains the festival’s importance and Borde Hill’s significance to her family.

The Making of Borde Hill Garden Festival

How long has the Borde Hill Garden Festival been in the making?

Borde Hill Garden Festival (BHGF) was born from our rebrand in 2023. We worked with top London design agency Here Design on a new brand identity for Borde Hill. It celebrates our significant heritage and presents it in a fresh, aspirational light that centres around ‘joyous balance’. BHGF is the evolution of this new brand identity, seeking to inspire a younger audience with the beauty of nature.

Why were you keen to introduce this new event?

I am passionate about nature, yet I have much to learn about horticulture and plants. BHGF is an inclusive event designed to make gardening accessible to all. Whether you have room for indoor plants, a window sill, or a beautiful garden with space to grow, come and be inspired and learn from the best in the business.

Big Names in the Gardening World

You have so many big names from the gardening world involved—who are you most looking forward to appearing at the festival?

Borde Hill has a long history of partnering with the best in British gardening. Our Garden Council was established in the 1920s and includes members from The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, RBG Cambridge, RBG Edinburgh, Wisley, Exbury, and ex-RHS Vice President Jim Gardiner.

We’re delighted to have a similarly impressive line-up of speakers at BHGF. From Knepp Estate and the Lost Gardens of Heligan to Jo Thompson and Jinny Blom, we’ve sought to bring together speakers to inspire both those with a good knowledge of gardening and those who love nature and want to have a wonderful day out in our beautiful heritage-listed garden.

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The Education and Inspiration

What do you hope to offer with the host of talks?

To educate and inspire. To celebrate the beauty of nature the importance of our natural world, and shine a spotlight on sustainability and climate change.

Sussex artist Claire Luxton is creating a conceptual portrait for the festival, and she offers a very contemporary and inspiring interpretation of how to appreciate the femininity of nature. Forest London will be talking about ‘Finding the right indoor plant for your home,’ so we’ve got a really diverse schedule of inspiring talks that all celebrate nature in their own way.

Celebrating Sussex

Importance of Sussex Businesses

There are lots of Sussex businesses seemingly involved. Is it important to you that the festival celebrates the county?

There is so much talent in Sussex to celebrate! Just this week we opened a new bridge in our historic Warren Wood, made by the hugely talented joiner Oli Carter.

Gardening Accessibility

Is making gardening accessible to all a key ethos at Borde Hill?

Yes, absolutely. We are passionate about sharing our knowledge and our nationally important plant collection to inspire and educate people of all ages and backgrounds to pause and appreciate the beauty of the natural world around them.

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Our social media channels, especially our Instagram page, are focused on sharing the peace and tranquility of the Garden and top tips for gardeners to try at home.

We were awarded the ‘Brand Social Media of the Year’ at last year’s Garden Media Guild awards, where we were shortlisted alongside the RHS and Garden’s Illustrated, and it was wonderful for the team to receive this recognition.

Involving Children

Does this extend to children?

We are a very family-friendly place. I grew up at Borde Hill and now live here with my two young boys. They love coming to our new biodynamic grower’s project (a two-acre market garden on one of our farms), picking the vegetables, and returning home, where we cook them together.

We have a forest school on the estate, and our school holiday family trails are hugely popular. Our National Lottery Heritage Fund-supported project in South Park is all about inspiring the next generation and educating them about the importance of nature, bringing the community together, safeguarding our nationally important plant collection, and championing trees for centuries to come.

Personal Reflections and History

Early Memories of Borde Hill

What are your earliest memories of Borde Hill?

I moved to Borde Hill with my parents and brother when I was six years old following the passing of my grandfather. I have such happy memories of exploring the woods, building dens, learning to fish, and going for walks with our golden Labrador. It’s wonderful to be reliving these experiences with my own two children now that we’re here.

Developing an Interest in Horticulture

Did you develop an interest in horticulture early?

I’m hugely fortunate to be surrounded by horticultural experts. My mother is the oracle – she knows every plant in the garden (there are over 8,000!) and has dedicated the last 35 years to enhancing the plantings, working with Chelsea Gold Medal-winning garden designers including Chris Beardshaw and Sophie Walker.

Harry Baldwin, our Head of Horticulture, is also hugely talented. We meet weekly to walk the garden and I’m really enjoying learning more and more about horticulture each day.

The Rich History of Borde Hill

Historical Fascination

What elements of Borde Hill’s history fascinate you?

Borde Hill has a fascinating history even before my family were here. Plants have been in our DNA since 1598 when Stephen Borde, the grandson of Henry VIII’s private herbalist and physician Andrew Borde, rebuilt the picturesque Elizabethan Mansion House at the core of our Estate. Andrew wrote one of the first books about medicinal plants in 1542, and the herbs and plants used to treat the King are celebrated through ornate plasterwork from 1601, which is still in the House to this day.

Horticultural Legacy

Centuries later, my great, great grandfather Colonel Stephenson R Clarke was responsible for creating our nationally important Garden and plant collection. A horticultural pioneer, he sponsored plant-hunting trips around the world, including Japan, China, Burma, Tasmania, and the Andes. The result is one of the rarest collections of privately owned champion trees in the UK and one of the only places you can still see plants from all four corners of the world.

Being a Custodian

How does it feel to be custodian of Borde Hill today?

Every generation of my family has dedicated their life to safeguarding our botanical collection while also adding their passion and flair. My grandfather was passionate about rhododendrons, and last year, we were awarded National Collection Status for the wonderful rhododendron collection across our Estate.

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Visitor Experience and Maintenance

What Visitors Can See

What can you tell me about what visitors can see?

Our Garden is laid out as a series of ‘garden rooms’, each with a unique feel and planting style. Jay Robin’s rose garden, which is named after me and was planted in 1996 by esteemed designer Robin Williams, is a kaleidoscope of 750 David Austin roses, while the tranquil Italian garden has panoramic views stretching across the South Park and lakes, surrounded by Italian-style plantings, and the lily pool features a sculpture by the talented Simon Gudgeon – owner of Sculpture by the Lakes, which is one of our new Partner Gardens, in addition to The Newt in Somerset.

Our nationally important English Garden has magnificent views over 383 acres of Grade II* heritage listed Parkland, which includes ancient woodland where a number of our champion trees are located. Warren Wood is a particularly beautiful space to visit right now as the 100-year-old rhododendrons are in full bloom and the woodland floor is carpeted with bluebells.

Garden Maintenance

How much work goes into maintaining these?

We have a small, passionate team who are an extension of my family, who have been custodians for 130 years. Our garden team is supported by an amazing team of volunteers, and we all work hard to protect our significant heritage.

Spring at Borde Hill

Is spring a wonderful time at Borde Hill?

Spring is such a wonderful season, full of growth and new hope. The Garden has exploded in color and fragrance over the last few months. We have a notable collection of magnificent magnolias, many champions collected by the great plant hunters in the early 1900s and they signal the first signs of spring in the garden. They have now been followed by huge rhododendrons and the striking color of azaleas.

Future Plans and Positivity

Development Plans

How are you looking to continue to develop Borde Hill?

My focus is on celebrating the past, safeguarding our collections for centuries to come, while inspiring the next generation. We have ambitious plans for the future, which include restoring our Victorian Stables into a new field to fork restaurant with a restored kitchen garden, and also our NLHF project in the South Park that seeks to connect communities with the restorative power of nature, helping local people feel mentally and physically replenished, and inspiring future generations through outdoor learning.

Looking Ahead

Are you positive about what lies ahead?

Yes very – Borde Hill is such a special place. As a 5th generation custodian, I feel a big responsibility to safeguard our collection and significant heritage, and I am hugely excited about elevating our proposition to reach new audiences and inspire more people about the magical world of nature.

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