Before I retired my boss had a beautiful 4-bedroom detached house on a private estate on the edge of Dorking. However, both her and her husband were gardeners, and their pristine garden was just too small for them. It would have been far too big for me, but not them they wanted something much bigger. Neither of them had any financial need to work, but both did. My boss had inherited money from her father and was running a profitable business. Her husband was a retired senior army officer, on a military pension but he had been ‘head hunted’ several times to prepare businesses for sale as a parachuted-in managing director. At a guess, I would have said their then house was worth close to £1,000,000.
They started looking for a house with a large garden and on a Monday morning, when the boss and I were in the office a good 30 minutes before anyone else, she would tell me of the houses they had viewed that weekend. Occasionally it was good with both the house and garden matching their requirements. But more often than not, either the house was lovely, but the garden was not, or the garden was what they were looking for but was let done by the house, it was too small or too grotty. When you are looking to spend up to £1.5 million you can afford to be fussy. They eventually saw a house and garden they both liked but it all fell through when there was a weekend of heavy rain and the private access road flooded and became impassable.
Then one Monday morning my boss was full of the house they had seen that weekend. The six-bedroom, three-bathroom house was big, in good repair, but not decorated to their taste. Not a problem for someone who owned a commercial refurbishment business and had painters and decorators on tap. But it was the grounds that she and her husband had fallen in love with. They had strolled around the six and a half acres with the vendors and the sellers had apologised they could no longer keep the grounds in the condition it deserved due to their advancing age.
My boss and her husband could see what the garden had once been. The huge patio with a raised pond containing koi carp, the croquet lawn, the rose walk, the raised beds, the lawns, the lake, the stream and the nearly two acres of woodland were all in need of a lot of work, but it was what they were looking for. The old vendors explained that the 2-acre paddock next to the garden was originally part of the property, but their grandchildren had ponies in the stables on the paddock, so they were going to retain that, but if they ever decided to sell they would give first options to whoever had bought the house.
On the drive home they decided they had finally seen the house they wanted, it was on sale for £1,450,000 but they knew there was a lot work to do on the house and garden. So, they did what everyone does, and made an offer. I don’t know what they eventually settled on, but I do remember my boss’s delight when she came out of her office to tell me that the sale was agreed, and they had a buyer for their Dorking house. It must be nice not to have to worry about a mortgage for a £1.5 million house.
Bedroom six had been fitted out as a home office and it was decided to leave it that way, but in clearing out the junk, the vendors had left there a copy of the original garden design drawing and planting plan. The garden designer was a Chelsea Gold Medal winner, and she was contacted about restoring the garden to its 1990 design. The designer was delighted to become involved in the project and gave her time and advice free of charge, and a programme of work was put in place to restore the garden back to its 1990 design.
At the same time, work started on bringing the house up to my boss’s standard. Of course, with only two of them in a five/six bedroom house, they had plenty of rooms to swap about in while others were being redecorated and refurbished. Going through the front door there is an entrance lobby, and a door opens into an enormous entrance hall. Doors off the hall lead to a 280 sq ft dining room and a mirror-image drawing room on the opposite side. At the back, a door opens into an inner hallway which leads to the kitchen/breakfast room and the downstairs cloakroom, the stairs, and the family room. Off the kitchen are a utility room and another toilet. Or course my boss had the kitchen completely refitted and new appliances in the utility room. Upstairs, bedroom six (the office) is over the entrance hall and with a balcony over the lobby. Bedrooms one and two are en-suite and are over the dining room and the drawing room. Bedroom one also has a dressing room.
Bedrooms three, four and five are to the rear of the house, over the kitchen/breakfast room and family room. Three is a smaller en-suite and four and five share the family bathroom. All this was very convenient as, while one en-suite bedroom was being refurbished, another was available to sleep in.
Meanwhile, the new owners spent every weekend and evening working the garden to restore the formal part to as close as possible to the original design. The lowest, croquet, lawn is surrounded by numerous perennials while the nearby path is a shady area with hostas, roses, clematis and even a grapevine. From the croquet lawn, a honeysuckle-covered arch leads to the formal rosebeds and their surrounding beds of peonies and lilies. Over these beds are rose and clematis-covered arches.
The next lawn is the games lawn where my boss’s grandchilden can play to their heart’s content without any fear of damaging the planting. To one side is the wisteria-covered walkway mixed with more clematis and climbing hydrangeas, leading to a cartwheel seat and a water feature. Past the games lawn is the arboretum with several exotic trees then the stream that feeds the lake with numerous large carp. I haven’t seen them myself, but I understand that recently a family of moorhens have moved in as have mallards. The brook that feeds the lake passes through a filter pond of wild/bog land that both ensure the lake’s water quality and encourage butterflies and dragonflies.
Beyond the lake are several acres of woodland which you have to pass through a gate to enter. This is because there are deer in the woods and if they are not kept out of the gardens, they will eat the precious plants! Deep in the woods you will find the grandchildren’s treehouse. Now the garden is back to something like its original layout, my ex-boss’s husband has turned an area of the lawn/arboretum into a play area with swings and a slide that he has built.
The paddock next to the garden was purchased a couple of years back and, although most of it is a meadow, there is now a chicken coop, a peacock enclosure, fruit cages and an enormous polytunnel on the additional land. Since I last visited, I understand there are plans to change the old stable block into an indoor swimming pool. I suspect they have added considerably to the value of the property since they purchased it.
Before Covid the National Garden Scheme approached my ex-boss and asked if she would open the gardens to the public, just as the original owners had when the gardens were new. The scheme raises money for small British charities and advertises garden opening days on their website. She agreed and opened the garden to the public one summer Sunday afternoon. For a small fee anyone could wander the grounds, the woods and the meadow (which also becomes a car park for the afternoon). That first opening was such a success that the garden is now open once or twice a year and hundreds turn up. It is also open to coach parties by special arrangement. My boss also lays on tea and cakes on the patio with the money raised going to a local charity. Last time I visited the money was going to the charity set up in the name of a boy in one of her granddaughter’s classes who had died of childhood cancer.
If you live anywhere near East Grinstead and if the gardens are open this summer, I can recommend a visit to the gardens of Sienna Wood House. Keep an eye open on ngs.org.uk. If I hear that it is opening, I will try to mention it on GP. Please note the house is not open to the public.
© WorthingGooner 2023