by Janis / 0 comments - Orginally published:4th July 2023

Exploring the captivating gardens and historic ruins

Our next National Trust adventure takes us into the delightful county of Sussex, well, West Sussex, to be precise and, we’re visiting the enchanting house and gardens of Nymans.

Nymans is nestled between the lush Surrey Hills and the verdant High Weald, which are Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). As soon as you arrive at Nymans, you feel that you have escaped the hustle and bustle of daily life and ambled into a serene oasis.

When you visit Nymans, you will not only enjoy the rich history of the Messel family home, but you’ll also be able to wend your way around the exquisite, captivating gardens.

Once again, the National Trust team have surpassed themselves. The green-fingered team of horticulturists lovingly manages the gardens, and the enthusiastic volunteers within the house are on hand to answer all your questions.

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So, let’s grab our National Trust cards and explore Nymans.

Where is Nymans

How to get to Nymans

- By Train
The nearest stations to Nymans are Crawley, 5 miles; Haywards Heath, 9 miles and Balcombe, 5 miles. Public transport is available from Crawley and Haywards Heath.

- By Car
Nymans in West Sussex is off the London to Brighton road M23/A23. Head towards Handcross and follow the brown National Trust signs for a couple of miles.

There’s a free car park for National Trust members; parking charges may apply to non-members.

Nymans postcode is RH17 6EB or you can find it by using What3Words ///digital.disgraced.earl

A little bit of history on Nymans

Creating Messel’s dream
The captivating house at Nymans was initially built in the late 1830s as a Regency-style manor house by George Harrington. Fast forward several decades, and it was purchased by the Messel family in 1890. Ludwig Messel, the first generation to reside at Nymans, was of German Jewish descent and, once settled in England, bought the delightful 600-acre Nymans estate.
Another view from the rockery of the ruined national trust nymans house on a bright day under a blue sky
 Nymans rockery
It wasn’t long before Ludwig and his wife Annie began transforming the old Regency house into a German-style family home. Ludwig’s brother, a renowned architect in Germany, created designs for the remodelling of the house. The plans included a tower, a conservatory, and a billiard room.
The partial ruins of nymans house in west sussex, as seen from the lawn in late spring
Nymans enchanting ruins

The refashioning of Nymans was then swiftly followed by the rejuvenation of Nymans’ gardens. Ludwig, along with his head gardener James Comber, began to indulge in their passion for gardening, landscaping and horticulture and no expense was spared by Ludwig Messel in creating his perfect tranquil environment.

Amongst Ludwig’s fervent plans included an arboretum, some of the trees that can still be seen today and the magnificent wisteria which envelopes the pergola by the croquet lawn and is inglorious bloom during May.

The view of the national trust nymans country house from the forecourt garden in west sussex, england
Medieval-styled manor

In 1915 Ludwig’s son Leonard inherited the Nymans estate, and the house was once again remodelled; the German-style wood-beamed home was transformed into an attractive mock-medieval stone manor house.

Nymans’ beautiful gardens continued to flourish and were nurtured and extended further. Leonard also had a passion for horticulture and, along with Comber, created a unique plant collection. In the 1930s, the garden gates of Nymans were thrown open to the public.

A smattering of purple alliums withing the circular sunken garden in front of a stone loggia at nymans house and gardens in west sussex
Alliums within the sunken garden

In 1947 a disastrous fire destroyed a vast part of the Nymans’ house. Due to the tragedy happening so close to the end of WWII, it was only partially rebuilt, leaving a large section of the house as ruins. Today the ruins at Nymans have become an integral part of the garden and create an emotive backdrop.

Leonard and his wife Maud had three children, and their daughter Anne married into the aristocracy to the Earl of Rosse. Anne’s eldest son was the Earl of Snowdon and went on to marry Princess Margaret.

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A little help from a Nymans friend

A font of information
When you stroll through Nymans’ visitor reception, you’re instantly welcomed by a smiling member of the National Trust team. If you need a little guidance on the best route to take around the gardens, Nymans house opening times, or if you’re joining one of Nymans guided walks, then they will have the answer.

Where to stay near Nymans

The Wheatsheaf Inn
This charming pub in nearby Cuckfield is around 4 miles from Nymans. The friendly staff offer a delicious, cooked breakfast, and in the evening, why not enjoy a tipple in their beer garden?

Hickstead Hotel
It is located just 5 ½ miles south of Nymans in a peaceful part of the Sussex countryside. An onsite restaurant is available and offers free car parking.

Off to the Pinetum, we go

The wildlife meadow awaits

We heeded the advice of the National Trust guide and headed off towards the majestic pinetum and arboretum.

However, there were some beautiful sights to see before arriving at the pinetum. A swathe of colourful planting appeared before us, full of vibrant spring tones. Recently I’ve begun to adore alliums in all shapes and sizes, and Nymans had a fine collection. I think I’ll be investing in more allium bulbs this autumn to extend our collection further.

A view across the meadow at the national trust nymans country house and gardens to the memorial shelter to Alfred Messel in the distance.
Nymans wildflower meadow

We continue along and amble beside Nymans huge wildflower meadow. I think in my garden, this would look like I can’t be bothered to mow the lawn rather than an intentional retreat for the local wildlife. The wildlife meadow includes over 50 species of wildflowers and looks wonderful.

Nearby is the charming temple dedicated to Ludwig’s brother Alfred Messel, a renowned architect.

A path between the trees of nyman's pinetum in the west sussex countryside
Meandering path in Nymans Pinetum

As we meander along the dappled pathway, we effortlessly arrive at Nymans Pinetum, which is delightful. The Pinetum is full of beautiful structural trees in all shades of green and russet reds.

Luckily for us, we can still appreciate some of the impressive blooms on Nymans’ rhododendrons in late May.

Strolling Lime Avenue

Admiring the scenery beyond
We amble through the pinetum and stroll beneath the verdant canopy along Lime Avenue with beautiful views across the arboretum and the scenic Sussex countryside beyond.
A narrow concrete parth running through lime alley at the national trust nymans country house and gardens in west sussex, england
Lime Avenue
We continue to wander around the perimeter of Nymans estate; from Lime Avenue, you’ll discover the ruins at the rear of Nymans house. Although the Messel family would have liked to renovate the whole home after the fire in 1947, the ruins as they stand have become an integral part of the Grade II* listed gardens.
A view of the west sussex countryside from a pathway in the national trusts nymans house and gardens
Views of the Wealden countryside

It is so peaceful all along Lime Avenue and a wonderful place to sit and soak up the Wealden landscape. This is a stunning part of West Sussex; you can easily understand why the Messel family fell in love with the location.

To discover Nymans estate in a little more depth, National Trust run daily ‘Garden Buggy Tours’ from May, so hop aboard and find out more.

Hiking the West Sussex Countryside

Nymans is located in the lush county of West Sussex. This region of England, along with the South Downs and the Wealden countryside, is perfect for hikes. To explore the delightful circular walks in this region, you’ll want the Ordnance Survey Pathfinder guidebook no. 66.

Alternatively, why not purchase and download the OS Maps App, which covers all of Great Britain.

Nymans sunken garden and loggia

A little flourish of South Africa

We weave our way around to the front of Nymans house to explore the beautiful sunken garden with a stunning loggia as a striking backdrop. Surrounding the sunken garden are pillar-shaped yew trees meticulously shaped and pruned by the National Trust gardeners.

I loved the stunning display of alliums within the sunken garden; they strike such an elegant pose.

A circular sunken garden in front of a stone loggia at nymans house and gardens in west sussex
Nymans sunken garden and loggia

A short hop from the loggia is the South African-inspired garden and meadow, which I imagine could be challenging to maintain over the English winter months.

However, with the May sunshine streaming through, the South African bed began showing its full glory.

A curved bed packed with exotic plants at nymans house and gardens in west sussex
South Africa bed
The South African bed has been thoughtfully planted out with delicate grasses, bold perennials and exotic hardy plants giving strong texture and structure to the charming garden.

If, like us, you enjoy visiting the National Trust gardens around the United Kingdom, then grab yourself a copy of the latest ‘Gardens of the National Trust’.

It’s a beautifully illustrated book, and it won’t be long before you’re planning your next trip.

Exploring the delightful rock gardens

A cherished wisteria
We wend our way from the sunken garden to Nymans magnificent rock gardens. This area of the estate was one of the first sections of the garden to be created by Ludwig Messel and was built in 1902 out of sandstone rocks.
A view from the rockery of the ruined national trust nymans house on a bright day under a blue sky
Nymans rock gardens
We particularly loved this section at Nymans; the heart-warming planting was enchanting; I could have spent hours admiring the delicate plants.
Looking down on the rock garden at nymans gardens in west sussex
View above the rock gardens
What I especially liked about the rock gardens was the nature of the planting. Amongst the boulders and interspersed within the golden pebbles were delicate plants which gave a captivating Mediterranean feel; in fact, the majority of the planting you would find in a British garden.
The purple flowering wisteria hanging from a pergola next to the croquet lawn at nymans house and gardens in west sussex
Wisteria in bloom at Nymans

Just down from the rock garden is Nymans’ croquet lawn. Our visit to Nymans was in May, so we were lucky enough to catch the ancient wisteria in bloom.

On the edge of the manicured croquet lawn was a long pergola. Along the entire length of the structure, a stunning wisteria was elegantly draped in magnificent lilac pastel blooms. It was so striking and created a parasol of dappled shade.

Escape for a few days

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Browse through the handpicked properties and unique retreats at Holiday Cottages.

Visiting Nymans’ house

A charming home amongst the ruins

Our next location to explore was Nymans house, which, as mentioned above, was ravaged by fire in 1947. Nymans was only partially refitted into a medieval-style home, and the remainder of the grand manor was left in ruins.

The ruins of the house were secured, and what was once a Great Hall is now an enchanting decorative garden.

The beautiful manicured formal forecourt garden with the stone dovecote in the corner next to nyman's house
Nymans house walled forecourt

The beautifully laid out walled forecourt garden with its attractive stone tower and dovecote is a joy to stroll around; you pick up so many ideas from their incredible mix of planting.

As you step into the main house, not only are you greeted with a beaming smile from the National Trust volunteers, but also, you’ll hear the delicate tones of the Broadwood piano being played by one of the volunteers.

The medieval-looking garden hall room within the national trust nymans house in west sussex
Garden Hall

One of the few surviving rooms in Nymans is the Garden Hall; it feels very intimate and full of personal items from the Messel family and many cherished family photographs.

Antique furniture lies throughout the room, and works of art and tapestries line the walls, which were once owned by Leonard and Maud Messel.

A cluttered desk belonging to anne mussel in the library of nymans
Anne Messel’s desk in the library
The other remaining rooms in the house are a Dining Room, a Book Room, and a Library; these rooms are on a lot smaller scale than they once were.
The small, private-looking, book room within the national trust nymans house in west sussex
Nymans Book Room
As you amble along the old stone flooring, you’ll see the layout of the original staircase, which has long since been lost from the main house. Wending your way through the charming rooms, volunteers are on hand to answer any of your inquisitive questions.

Discovering more National Trust gardens

Exploring Nymans walled garden

And off to the rose garden

We’re now venturing off to explore Nymans’ enchanting walled garden and their fragrant rose garden.

A few of the summer borders were being planted out by the National Trust gardeners during our visit to Nymans, so we didn’t quite see them in full bloom. However, there were still plenty of other sections of the walled garden to explore off the main avenue.

One of the entrance arches to the walled garden at nymans house and gardens in west sussex
Nymans walled garden

Recently we’ve acquired a bit of a soft spot for irises, so it was a delight to see the bearded iris ‘Kent Pride’ on display, which is one of the varieties we have in our garden.

Amongst the other blooms on show were aquilegia, camassias, bleeding hearts and forget-me-nots, to name a few.

Dotted all around Nymans’s gardens are grand statues, manicured topiary, tumbling water features and plenty of seating to rest your weary feet.

A gravel footpath running under a rose arch towards an art deco water fountain in nymans rose garden
Nymans tranquil rose garden
The final segregated garden we headed to was the rose garden. We were visiting Nymans in May, so we were a little early in the flowering season to enjoy the full extent of Nymans’ exquisite rose garden. Nevertheless, sitting peacefully and watching the wildlife fluttering by was a calming and relaxing experience.

Our video of Nymans

We have created a little YouTube video of our visit to Nymans.  Why not take a look?

Also, consider subscribing to our YouTube channel to get the latest clips as we post them.

Potting shed or bookshop?

Nymans’ plant centre

It wouldn’t be the same if a National Trust site didn’t have a second-hand bookshop, and the one at Nymans is a vision of beauty with its cascading lilac wisteria clambering over the former potting shed.

Have a rummage around inside and grab yourself a literary bargain.

Purple flowering wisteria covering the sage coloured wooden hut that house the second-hand book store at nymans in west sussex
Nymans second-hand book shop
Our final destination in Nymans was the garden shop and the overflowing plant centre. I find that the plants on sale at the National Trust sites are pretty reasonably priced and, as you can imagine, well looked after.
The well-stocked courtyard and garden shop at nymans in west sussex

Nymans garden shop

We couldn’t resist picking up a couple of hostas for one of the shady sections of our garden, and they are both thriving well.

Go on, grab your National Trust membership card, and visit Nymans in West Sussex.

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