Pink, yellow and white flowers with grass surrounding them.

Worth Park and their new National Plant Collection

Worth Park

Worth Park was once a part of the large forest of Worth, which extended over the parishes of Worth, Crawley, Balcombe, Ardingly and Slaugham in West Sussex (today, just south of Gatwick Airport). Most or all of this forested area was enclosed as a deer park, referred to as the ‘Park in Worth’ by John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey, in 1279. Since then, the forest has been partitioned and changed ownership many times. The earliest Ordnance Survey map of Sussex shows ‘Park Farm’ to the west of the Balcombe Road. We learn from an 1824 article in The Times that Abraham Montefiore bought his Worth-park farm in the 1810s.  By 1839/40 his son Joseph Mayer Montefiore owned numerous plots of land in the area and we read now of a ‘Worth Park House and Garden’. After a fire in 1847, Worth-Park House was rebuilt completely by 1856 and the Worth Park branch of the Montefiore family re-modelled Worth Park continuously.

Worth Park balustrades with pink flowers and trees in the background.
Worth Park balustrades (c) Stephen Peters

The now most visible aspects of the garden including the Camellia corridor took place from 1884-1887 by appointment of Henry Ernest Milner who was involved in the design of Worth Park. He was hired by Sir Francis Montefiore, to transform his gardens into a Victorian paradise. Milner was a landscape architect and civil engineer who had worked on many projects in the UK and abroad and was the son of Edward Milner. He was also the author of The Art and Practice of Landscape Gardening, published in 1890, a book that influenced many garden designers. He was a member of the RHS Council, a judge at RHS shows, and a recipient of the Victoria Medal of Honour, the highest award given by the RHS to British horticulturists

A picture of a blue plaque in honour of James Pulham (c) Stephen Peters
James Pulham blue plaque (c) Stephen Peters

Milner designed the park layout, while James Pulham and Son implemented his plans and created artificial rockwork, water features, the fountain, the rockery/fernery and the terracotta balustrades of Italian style. The company of James Pulham and Son designed features for the gardens of Buckingham Palace, Sandringham House, RHS Garden, Wisley and Sheffield Park which have lasted until now.

A central gravel-like path, flanked by blue flowers.
Worth Park Italian terraces (c) Stephen Peters

Unfortunately, with the cost burdens and manpower shortages arising from the outbreak of the First Word War in 1914, the mansion and estate was broken up and sold in 1915 to a girls boarding school, Milton Mount College who continued to operate the mansion as a school until it closed in 1960, Crawley Borough Council then bought the school property in 1963.

A circular bed of blue flowers surrounded by concrete with a background of evergreen trees.
The former fountain designed by James Pulham and Son, which now an herbaceous border. (c) Stephen Peters

The Achillea Collection

The Achillea filipendulina & millefolium National Plant Collection was started over two years ago by me, Stephen Peters, Head Gardener and Tom Moore, then our Horticulture Apprentice. We adapted a particular area of the park for plant conservation. The collection now holds over 160 plants of 45 different varieties of various cultivars. The plants are a perfect addition to the park’s ethos of sustainability and conservation.

A long bed of yellow, white and pink flowers in a lawn.

The whole idea came about because of a chance meeting with two members of Sussex Plant Heritage Group who, whilst visiting Worth Park were intrigued by a particular gravel area which was coved in various cultivars of Achillea. Myself and Tom were working in that particular area at that time and thus a conversation started about a potential National Plant Collection of Achillea.

I was thrilled with this idea and up for the challenge of curating something new and special for the park but more importantly to give Tom a great project to be involved with from the start. After the initial proposal was put forward to Plant Heritage’s committee and was given the green light, we started to plot out areas around the gravel area to hold the collection.

Achillea filipendulina & millefolium

Achillea are great, easy to maintain, easy to propagate via division; and above all fit into our ethos of drought tolerant planting, and providing an essential food source for pollinators. We chose to collect Achillea filipendulina as there are only a few cultivars to collect: around seven to ten; and Achillea millefolium due to the vast range of colours. As for sourcing the plants, a majority of the plants came from local nurseries, some commercial and others independent. The independent ones held the most unusual ones which made the collection even more interesting.

Yellow orange and red flowers
Achillea at Worth Park (c) Stephen Peters

The process of course had to be monitored and recorded via Plant Heritage’s Persephone plant records system. The date of purchase, size of plant, description, supplier, photos, geolocation of the plant and more. This was great for Tom to learn and to be involved in curating a plant collection.

Last November (2023) Worth Park in Crawley was awarded National Plant Collection status for its Achillea filipendulina & millefolium cultivars (yarrow) plants by Plant Heritage. The collection holds Horticultural status, which means that it contains plants whose conservation-worthiness stems from their garden value. They act, not only as a reservoir of genetic material, a connection and celebration of past breeders, but a resource for the future.

I feel it is indeed an honour to manage the Collection, as all collections are important to..

…conserve the unique gene pool of accumulated variation from centuries of selection and breeding, a resource of great economic potential and heritage value.’ (Christopher Brickell, 1977).

(c) Stephen Peters, Head Gardener, Worth Park.