Firle Place – The Pleasure Grounds – A Short Guide
Firle Place Is the home of Lord Gage and his family and has been the seat of the Gage family for over 500 years. The house is set in the centre of a 7000 acre estate which stretches from Lewes to Alfriston.
The Pleasure Grounds are part of Lord Gage’s private garden, which are opened to the public twice a year in aid of charity.
The History of the Pleasure Grounds
‘Pleasure Ground’ is an 18th century term meaning an ‘area of cultivated lawns and ornamental planting and architecture designed for traversing on foot’.
The terraces and Pleasure Grounds of Firle Place were noted during a survey in 1987 as being of considerable historic importance. They were laid out in the mid-18th century as a series of roughly parallel walks, with terraced walks above the house.
The Pleasure Grounds were left to nature in the 1850s when the indoor life and foreign travel became more fashionable. At this time, work was being carried out on the north garden to create the balustrade and fountain.
In the 1930s the reclamation of the Pleasure Grounds began. The Great Storm of 1987 left only 22 mature trees standing across the 25 acres, which had previously been densely wooded. It took 6 years to clear the grounds and clearing work still continues today. Many ash and beech trees were planted to fill the area.
The Future of the Pleasure Grounds
The Pleasure Grounds are becoming a woodland garden with clearings or, to use the 18th century term, ‘cabinet’, scattered about each with its own distinct planting theme. One is being planted each year to give the appearance of unusual surprises popping up in a typical English wood.
The Dell Garden
The Dell Garden is Lord Gage’s private garden, begun in the 1870s and replanted in 2001. It is a tranquil and relaxing corner surrounding the 19th century dairy building. The dairy building is now a summer house, but was once an estate dairy farm building which fell into disuse when it was no longer used for the manufacture of cheese and cream.
The Dell Garden is planted with a mixture of shrubs, small trees, herbaceous plants and climbers.
The Jubilee Glade
The Jubilee Glade was planted in the winter of 2002. It contains a selection of different crab apples, showing a range of spring and autumn colour. This glade has trees in the centre, shrub planting round the edge and avenues lined with holly or dog rose leading into it.
There is nothing more English than roses and apples, hopefully a fitting tribute to Her Majesty.
The Oriental Glade
Planted in 2003 to celebrate Lord Gage’s 70th birthday, the plants have an oriental feel. A Handkerchief Tree was requested, giving rise to the oriental planting theme. The ‘chainsaw art’ dragon was created by the Firle Place Gardens Department. The sweet chestnut and oak trees were planted in the 1990s and are some of the few that have thrived.
The Gold and Silver Glade
The estate was once famed for the Gold and Silver Walks which led from the garden to the top of Firle Beacon. In honour of these walks, this glade was planted in 2004, adding a blast of colour to the Pleasure Grounds. The log statue in the centre is of silver birch logs.
The Cherry Glade
The Cherry Glade was planted during 2005 around a clump of wild cherry trees (Prunus avium ). The glade is surrounded by edge planting, including dwarf cherries. The centre is planted with specimen cherries and clumps of dwarf cherries. To add a touch of extra colour, other shrubs have been added. The cherry seat is made from timber salvaged after the ’87 storm.
The Lost Valley
A ‘Lost Valley’ was a common feature of an 18th century Pleasure Ground and would be an area rich in flora and fauna. Usually they were steep-sided, dug out by hand and planted with many species of trees, and full of exotic plants, ferns and wild flowers.
The Lost Valley reclamation project was started in 2003. The tree stumps which lined its floor and the self-seeded weed trees have been removed, and the area landscaped. The features, such as stumps and log heaps, try to give it a very natural but wild feel.
The Lost Valley is divided into sections. In 2006 planting began. “Berried Treasure” is full of trees and shrubs noted for their fruit. “The Betula Grove” has been planted with rare and unusual birches. The 2007 planting is “The Vale of Tears” which consists of pendulus trees and shrubs.