Exploring Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens, West Sussex

by Jan

Spectacular gardens, woodland walks, amazing art, and wallabies were just some of the attractions we enjoyed on our lovely day out at Leonardslee Gardens in West Sussex.

Located in Lower Beeding, near Horsham in West Sussex, Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens is a Grade-1 listed garden, with impressive displays of flora and fauna.  The gardens reopened to visitors in 2019 after nearly 10 years of closure and is now considered one of “the Finest Woodland Gardens in England”.  We went on a visit to Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens to see for ourselves.*

In our guide, we’ll share all the best things to see and do at Leonardslee and practical information for your visit.

Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens

views of lake at Leonardslee Gardens

The Grade-1 listed Leonardslee Gardens are open to visitors all year except for Christmas Day.  We’d been once before for their amazing Christmas light event, but never in the day time.

You enter from the ticket office, which is by the car park.  There are toilets here and a gift shop too.

From here, it’s a short walk to the wallaby enclosure, which is where we started our visit to Leonardslee Gardens.

Wallabies at Leonardslee Gardens

One of the most unique attractions at Leonardslee Gardens are the wallabies, which have free rein of the estate.

Picture of 3 albino wallabies and 1 brown wallaby sitting amongst trees

They are thought to be Bennett’s Wallabies, brought from Tasmania by former owner Sir Edmund Loder in the late 1880s.

The naturalist introduced a full menagerie of animals from overseas, including capybara, emus, and beavers.  However, it was the resilient wallabies which adapted best to the colder climate and flourished.  Their thick coats are ideal for coping with the harsh English winters.

Since their arrival in the UK, the wallabies have bred profusely and can be seen roaming around the woodland and gardens.  However, they can be quite elusive.  Apparently, wallabies have an acute sense of smell and hearing, so probably heard us coming (or smelt the dog!).

Despite our best efforts we didn’t spot any, though we did meet a visitor who declared he’d just seen a couple of kangaroos!

Dogs on short leads are allowed at Leonardslee.

2 wallabies under a tree. One has a Joey peeking from her pouch.

How cute are these wallabies and Joeys?

To guarantee a sighting of wallabies at Leonardslee Gardens, head to the maternity enclosure, where they have breeding pairs.  Feeding time is daily  from 12.00 – 12.15.  At this time, visitors can watch the wallabies eating and learn some facts from the keeper.

  • The breeding season is from January to February.
  • The gestation period is 29 days.
  • The Joey (young wallaby) climbs straight into the pouch and stays there for 9 months.

Spring is a good time to visit, and we saw a couple of adorable Joeys peeping out the top of their mother’s pouch.  You’ll notice some pretty albino wallabies, though they are trying to phase these out, as they can have health problems.

Leonardslee Vineyard

Behind the wallaby enclosure, you’ll see a 37-acre vineyard.

This is the UK’s first Pinotage vineyard and produces thousands of bottles of wine each year.  They offer wine tasting of the wines from their sister vineyard in South Africa, but you need to book these sessions in advance.

Exploring Leonardslee Gardens

Leonardslee House in the background with trees and field of daffodils in foreground

Leaving the wallabies behind we set off to explore the gardens.  We took a short scenic path through Camellia Walk, which was in season with hundreds of Camellia in bloom.

From here, the path leads down to the seven interlocking lakes which run through the bottom of the valley.  On the way down you’ll pass Leonardslee House, a mansion built by William Egerton Hubbard (father-in-law to Sir Edmund Loder).

Leonardslee House

Giant Sculpture of a man with his hands held out at Leonardslee Gardens, West Sussex

Leonardslee House is an elegant Italiante house which overlooks the gardens.  Built in 1855, this country mansion is now open to the public and one of the best places to stay in West Sussex.  In front of the house is an impressive sculpture by South African sculptor, Anton Smit.

Last year, the Times awarded Leonardslee House the accolade of “one of the best places to stay in Southeast England”.

If you enjoy fine dining, they have a Michelin star restaurant, Interlude, within Leonardslee House.

Walking at Leonardslee Gardens

Sculpture of green head with spikes

There are two main trails at Leonardslee, the Spring Walk and the Ultimate Trail.  However, it’s easy to do a self-guided route by meandering through the different paths.

The Spring Walk takes you on a route around the gardens and lakes.  However, we took the Ultimate Trail, a longer woodland route which incorporates the deer park.  As well as wallabies, Leonardslee is home to a herd of over 100 Sika and Fallow deer who roam the woodland section of the gate. Remember to shut the gate, as I’m sure they’d have a field day in the gardens!

Leonardslee Gardens has an extensive tree collection, with some Champion Trees, which have been recognised for their size or age.  Overall, they have over 70 Champion Trees with species from all over the world.

As we returned from the woodland, we took a closer look at the gardens.  Dating back to before 1900, the gardens are mature with many well-establish plants and bushes.  Sir Edmund Loder had brought back various species of rhododendrons from overseas and you can see these in the Loderi and Coronation Gardens.

One garden not to be missed is the ornamental Rock Garden.  Created in 1900, this Victorian garden has palms, ferns, follies and grottoes.  Follow the winding paths through the rock formations to appreciate the spectacular displays.

The Art Trail

Bronze sphere shaped sculpture in gardens with trees behind.

As well as beautiful gardens and wildlife, one of the best reasons for visiting Leonardslee is the art trail.

Leonardslee Gardens has about 100 sculptures by over 40 different local artists from Sussex and Surrey.  You’ll see an impressive collection, showcasing a wide variety of mediums, styles, and subjects.

Large sculpture of face blending into to woodland landscape

The sculptures are dotted around the gardens and woodland, blending seamlessly with the natural landscape.  If you have cash to spare, the artwork is for sale.

The Dolls' House Museum

Image of miniature chemist shop inside dolls house

Don’t forget to visit the Dolls’ House Museum at Leonardslee!

As we returned back up to the top, we made a quick visit to the Dolls’ House Museum.

Within the museum you’ll find a collection of carefully crafted models depicting the Edwardian estate.  Each display portrays a different scene with incredible detail and precision.  Built by Helen Holland, the museum has over 200 characters, each created by hand.

It doesn’t take long to visit the museum, but is definitely worth a stop.

Eating at Leonardslee

There are several choices for eating at Leonardslee Gardens.  We chose The Clocktower Kitchen, which offers a selection of breakfasts, light lunches, and afternoon tea.  We were able to take the dog in there to make our choices, but then headed outside to eat.  There are a couple more cafés which are only open in peak season.

If you prefer something more memorable, you could book Afternoon Tea in Leonardslee House.  You can choose from their Classic, Savoury or Children’s menu and sit back to enjoy it with views over the estate.

Alternatively, for something more decadent, try the multi-course tasting menu created by chef Jean Delport in the main restaurant, Interlude.

The Gift Shop

As you leave, you can walk through the gift shop, which is a treasure trove of lovely things.  Vases, pots, cups, ornaments – there is absolutely loads to choose from and at reasonable prices too.

Play Park at Leonsardslee

A new play park opened at Leonardslee Gardens on 29th March, which will make it even more fun for kids.  It was in the final stages of completion as we left and looks like it will be a big hit if you have younger children.

Christmas at Leonardslee

Enormous earth with reflection of earth in water below.

Although this was our first visit to see the gardens by day, we have visited Leonardslee Gardens before.

In December, we came for Leonardslee Illuminated, their Christmas light trail which runs through the festive season.  This was a spectacular event, with illuminations, music, water fountains and enormous installations reflecting in the lakes.  I would definitely recommend it if you live locally.

*I received complimentary tickets to Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens; however, the opinions in this review are my own.

Useful Information for your visit

Opening times at Leonardslee Gardens

Leonardslee Gardens is open from 9am – 4pm in winter and until 5pm in peak season (31st March – 27th October)

Getting to Leonardslee Gardens

Leonardslee Gardens is located in Lower Beeding, near Horsham in West Sussex.  The postcode is RH13 6PP.  It is only 1 hour from London by car or train.

By car

We took the car from Surrey, using the M25/A24.  Alternatively, you could use the M23/A23.  As you get closer, it is clearly signed.

There is a large car park in front of the entrance.  You have to pay for parking, but the funds support the work at the gardens.

By train

The nearest station to Leonardslee Gardens is Horsham.  Regular trains run from London Victoria and Clapham Junction.  From here you take the number 17 bus, which stops outside the gardens.  (Please note that the bus doesn’t run on Sundays.)

We'd love to hear from you

Are you planning a visit to Leonardslee Gardens?  We’d love to hear your comments below.

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