Wakehurst is a large botanic garden in the South of England where you can walk through several of the world’s vegetation regions in the span of a few hours.
Its biggest attraction though is the Millennium Seed Bank – a glass building shaped like interconnected greenhouses underneath which is a vault with the world’s largest reserve of wildlife seeds.
Visiting Wakehurst and the Millennium Seed Bank is a great way to spend a relaxing day out in the English countryside. I had the pleasure to experience it first hand this past weekend and I loved every unhurried minute we spent traversing the garden’s tree-lined alleys and lush lawns.
From huge sequoias from the USA to tiny blooms from the Kyrgyzstan steppe, from katsura trees the fallen leaves of which smell like candy floss to crab apples and Chinese quinces bunched in their dozens on each branch, there were wonderful botanical surprises at every step.
And then with every step we made we were transported hundreds and thousands of miles away, often to the other end of the world, without actually leaving the English county of West Sussex.
It was a great way to travel around the planet in one lovely afternoon. And while the clouds were grey and the wind at times really revved it up, next to Wakehurst’s trees and shrubs it felt nice and cozy, giving us a first-hand understanding of how beneficial to our mental health being close to nature truly is.
Thankfully, the skies held up and didn’t open over our heads. Towards the end of the afternoon, the sun made an appearance, too. So, all in all, it was a great day!
I particularly enjoyed the time we spent at Wakehurst’s Millennium Seed Bank.
This state-of-the-art facility preserves billions of seeds of over 40,000 plant species. It’s thus considered to be the world’s most biodiverse place.
To sum it up, if you are looking for a great day out in the South of England with a bit of walking, a bit of relaxation, and a bit of science thrown into the mix, head straight to Wakehurst in West Sussex.
In this blog post, I share with you many useful details and first-hand impressions about this splendid botanic garden so as to make your visit there as exciting as possible. I have included lots of photos, too to give you a visual idea of what to expect during your time at Wakehurst and the Millennium Seed Bank.
I hope that you will find it useful and that it will inspire you to put Wakehurst at the top of your days out in England wish list.
Now, without further ado, let’s start!
Visiting Wakehurst and the Millennium Seed Bank – A Great Day Out in West Sussex, England
What is Wakehurst?
Wakehurst is a large horseshoe-shaped botanic garden in the county of West Sussex in the South of England. It covers 535 acres and it takes you through several of the world’s vegetation regions.
In the span of a few very pleasant hours, you can walk past Australian Wollemi pines – a tree that has been around since the age of the dinosaurs, stroll through the Himalayan Glade, admire plants that are typical for the Kyrgyzstan steppe, and relax in the shadow of trees that typically are only found in Asia.
All this and so much more without actually leaving England.
With an exquisite Winter Garden, beautifully landscaped lawns, fairytale woodlands, water gardens with tropical vegetation, wetlands that are crisscrossed by boardwalks, meadows studded with wildflowers, and giant sequoia trees one of which turns into the UK’s tallest living Christmas tree each year, Wakehurst is a truly beautiful place to visit and where you can feel close to nature in its many different regional shapes.
First established as a botanic haven back in 1903, nowadays Wakehurst operates under the umbrella of the worldwide renowned Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Like most things in England though, the story of Wakehurst stretches over many centuries all the way back to 1205 when one William de Wakehurst purchased a 40-acre plot of land and gave his name to this new estate.
In the 16th century, a large mansion was built there in the Elizabethan style. You can still see it there today looking all gorgeous with its stone facade, perfectly manicured lawn, and a border of brightly coloured blooms and shrubs.
Then in 1903, Gerald Walter Erskine Loder – President of the Royal Horticultural Society among many other things – bought Wakehurst and used it to set up a botanic collection. He also sponsored several plant expeditions abroad with the aim of expanding the number and variety of plant specimens cultivated at Wakehurst.
In 1963, Wakehurst was bequeathed to the National Trust – a charity and membership organisation conserving English, Welsh, and Northern Irish heritage. And then, in 1965, the estate was leased to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Through the decades, Wakehurst grew to its current size of 535 acres, became the most biodiverse place on Earth thanks to its Millenium Seed Bank, and remains one of the loveliest corners in the South of England to be visited by curious botanists, fans of the art of gardening, and everyone looking for a bit of peace and beauty in our hurried lives.
What is the Millennium Seed Bank?
The Millennium Seed Bank is certainly the gem in Wakehurst’s crown. A high-tec facility, its vault currently houses 2,3 billion seeds of more than 40,000 different plant species.
With more than 20% of the world’s plant species being at risk of extinction, the Millennium Seed Bank preserves the biodiverse richness for future generations.
Originally established in 1976, the bank’s current building was inaugurated twenty years ago by HRH the Prince of Wales. Apart from storing seeds from almost all the UK’s native plant species, the bank also preserves seeds from all over the world. They have been collected thanks to the tireless work of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership – a global network working in more than 100 countries.
The bank’s building resembles a series of interconnected glasshouses. In front of it, there are eight raised garden beds recreating threatened habitats of the British Isles. Visitors can enter the central hall of the bank where temporary exhibitions are staged. As walls are made of glass, from this central position, one can observe the bank’s scientists at work and admire the many and different pieces of equipment they use.
The vault where the seeds are stored is underneath the glasshouses and is out of bounds. The vault is also flood, bomb, and radiation-proof. Plus, the temperature inside it is kept at a positively freezing -20 degrees Celsius.
How to visit Wakehurst and the Millennium Seed Bank and how much does it cost to visit?
You will find Wakehurst and its Millennium Seed Bank in the county of West Sussex in the South of England.
You can use Google Maps and/or Rome2Rio to plan your travel to the botanic garden either by car or public transport. Bus line 272 connects Wakehurst with the nearby towns of Crawley, Haywards Heath, and Burgess Hill as well as with Brighton. The nearest train station is in Haywards Heath where you can get bus 272 to continue your journey. Alternatively, you can get a train to Three Bridges and from there bus 272 again.
By car, Wakehurst is easy to reach from Greater London and the counties of Surrey, East Sussex, and Kent.
For up to date information on ticket prices, please, always refer to Wakehurst’s official website here. At the time of my visit to Wakehurst, an adult ticket cost £14.50 with different concessions available.
Please, note that entry is free for Wakehurst and Kew members, as well as for National Trust members. Parking charges are in place for everyone but Wakehurst and Kew members. If you are planning to visit the botanic garden more than once or if you want to visit Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew or other heritage sites in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, then it really pays to purchase a membership for respectively Wakehurst/Kew, or the National Trust.
What are your personal impressions of visiting Wakehurst and the Millennium Seed Bank?
Wakehurst was one of the very first sights that my husband, our daughter, and I visited in England after relocating back here from Italy where we had spent the last six years.
We chose this botanic garden as a destination for our outing last Sunday mainly because we had read about the Millennium Seed Bank and wanted to see it. Botanic gardens and landscaped parks have always been one of my favourite destinations in a new place, so I was looking forward to seeing Wakehurst and spending a couple of relaxing hours there.
The garden completely exceeded any expectations that I may have had. First, it is absolutely enormous. Second, it has such an abundant richness of plant life that it is impossible to see it all and experience it all in one visit. Everywhere we looked, there were trees with curiously-shaped leaves, unusual fruits, gorgeous colours, there were shrubs and bushes with the most wondrous petals, there were flowers with bright blooms attracting a million of bumblebees and it was all so pretty and peaceful, we took it really slowly, just enjoying every moment of being surrounded by so much beauty.
Before delving into the gardens, we made sure that we ticked off the Millenium Seed Bank. It is a truly great place where you come face to face with science as it is happening and helping to make the world a more secure place in terms of its biodiversity. As it was Sunday, there were no scientists working at their stations but I enjoyed reading the information boards that are organised around the public visiting area and admiring the rather cool tools and equipment that we could glimpse through the glass walls in the different laboratories.
A temporary exhibition had been set up in the central hall of the Millenium Seed Bank. Under the title Surviving or Thriving: An Exhibition on Plants and Us it provided lots of details about the state of the world’s plants. I found it quite fascinating to read that we still discover 2,000 new plant species a year!
Another interesting fact that made an impression on me is that the jet gemstone is actually a fossilized monkey puzzle tree. Apparently, the finest jet in the world comes from Whitby in North Yorkshire – an area which was covered with monkey puzzle trees during the Jurassic period.
It was a curious sensation to know that underneath our feet there was a flood, bomb, and radiation-proof vault built specifically to house seeds.
Seeds are usually so small and they look so meek, it’s easy to forget about the promise that each one of them harbours inside. Yet, come to think of it, each seed is packed with an incredible amount of genetic information and given the right conditions it produces a new lease of life.
While the Millenium Seed Bank’s vault is out of bounds for visitors, my imagination ran wild and for a second I had a vivid picture in my mind of all those billions of seeds bursting into life and blooming right then and there creating a rather wonderful tapestry of colours, scents, and shapes.
Perhaps, this is what the Garden of Eden looked like (if you are inclined to believe in its material existence, of course) – a place where all the plants of Earth grew, blossomed and then shed seeds in order to grow and blossom again.
We left the glasshouses of the Millennium Seed Bank behind and headed out to explore Wakehurst and the many corners of this huge botanic garden.
There is lots to see there! Ponds, lakes, water gardens, wildflower meadows, wetlands, valleys. Wonderful trees and shrubs, and flowers everywhere. It was quite amazing to think of how incredibly rich and varied nature is, how each plant – no matter how small or large – has adapted to its environment to guarantee its survival.
I am sure this was just my first visit to Wakehurst. With events and talks taking place there all throughout the year, I will gladly return time and time again.
A return visit to Wakehurst will also hopefully give me a chance to see the Elizabethan Mansion on the inside. It was closed when we were there due to the Covid-19 measures that are in place. I loved photographing its facade, as well as its Walled and Winter Gardens.
The Walled Garden together with the Mansion was truly a picture-perfect place built on the best traditions of the art of English gardening.
All in all, I found Wakehurst a great place to visit.
From families looking for an open space for their children to run around to people that need a bit of relaxation from the stresses of daily life, from photographers eager to capture the beauty of the world’s nature without having to travel thousands of miles to botany enthusiasts seeking to learn more about plant life, there is something for everyone there.
What Covid-19 measures are in place at Wakehurst?
After experiencing Italy’s very strict lockdown first hand between February and May this year, I am so grateful for every chance I get to be outside freely walking and exploring different places.
At the same time, I make sure to follow the latest guidelines and observe all restrictions and requirements that may be in force at the places I visit. Wakehurst gave me full peace of mind in terms of the Covid-19 measures implemented there.
As per the Wakehurst’s official website, at this moment in time, you have to book your entry online in advance by choosing an available time slot and then presenting yourself at the entrance at the booked hour.
Face coverings need to be worn in all closed public areas – from the Visitors’ Centre and the on-site cafe to the toilets. A one-way system is in place there, too. Otherwise, you are free to roam the garden and its many corners, provided you observe a social distance of two metres from other visitors.
It was all very straightforward and easy to observe.
What else can I see and do nearby?
A visit to Wakehurst must not be rushed for there is so much to see, do, and experience there.
Even just slowly walking around taking it all in and delighting in the shapes and colours of the thousands of trees, shrubs, and flowers is a very pleasant way to while a whole day away.
Still, if you are a speedy sightseer or want to use your time as productively as possible, here are a few other places you can tick off before or after a visit to Wakehurst:
- Wings Aviation Museum – expect a large hangar filled to the brim with all things aviation.
- Gatwick Aviation Museum – next to the world-famous Gatwick Airport, don’t miss this neat museum if planes and flying are your thing.
- Ouse Valley Viaduct – originally built in 1838 to carry the London-Brighton train line over the River Ouse, this dramatic structure is a sight to behold. It makes for great photo opportunities and you can enjoy a countryside walk in its immediate surroundings.
- British Wildlife Centre – self-billed as ‘the finest collection of native wildlife in Britain’. Come here to discover over forty species – from the charming red squirrel to foxes, Scottish wildcats, otters, pine martens, hedgehogs, and otters among many others.
Which other botanic gardens do you recommend to visit in England?
Plant collecting and botanic garden creation have been favourite pastimes for generations in England. Hence, the country is dotted with a rich tapestry of gardens where you can admire both local and international flora and go for relaxing walks in the bosom of carefully cultivated nature.
Three of the most famous and beautiful botanic gardens in England that I have had a chance to visit and would like to point you to are as follows:
- Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – already mentioned a few times in my blog post above and leaseholder of Wakehurst, Kew Gardens offer 300 acres of plants and vegetation from all over the world. Meticulously planned and maintained, and with a history that involves some of the world’s most famous botanists and plant scientists, Kew Gardens are an unmissable sight in London and the South of England.
- Ventnor Botanic Garden, Isle of Wight – a green corner of botanic paradise, this small and very easy to navigate botanic garden will walk you through the four corners of the world’s vegetation in a couple of hours. I particularly like the glass greenhouse where you will feel like you have found yourself in a tropical rainforest – with heat, humidity, and phyto abundance faithfully recreated there.
- Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum, Oxford – this is the first botanic garden in the UK. It was established in 1621 at the University of Oxford – the UK’s oldest University.
Getting in close contact with nature is a great way to spend time on days off.
Wakehurst – a huge botanic garden in the South of England – is the perfect place to both enjoy nature and learn more about it. Stretching over an area of 535 acres, the garden gives you a chance to walk through several of the world’s vegetation regions and to see rare trees and plants that would otherwise take you a significant outlay in time, money, and effort to spot in the wild.
Visiting Wakehurst is like travelling around the planet in a day to appreciate its incredible botanic richness.
In addition, Wakehurst is the home of the Millennium Seed Bank – a state-of-the-art facility preserving the seeds of over 40,000 plant species. As such, it is considered to be the world’s most biodiverse place.
The above blog post provides helpful information and first-hand impressions on visiting Wakehurst. I have included short overviews of both Wakehurst and the Millennium Seed Bank, useful tips on how to get there, what else to see in the area and my thoughts about what I saw and experienced there. In addition, I have added three more unmissable botanic gardens to enjoy in England.
I hope that all this will give you the impetus to visit Wakehurst for yourself and to spend a few relaxing hours there surrounded by the beauty of the natural world that has been carefully tended to by a loving and knowledgeable hand.
More Helpful Links
- Italian Gardens – How to Visit Four of Italy’s Most Beautiful Parks in the Veneto
- Padua’s Botanical Garden and the Basilica of Santa Giustina – A Great Contrast of New and Old
- 9 Gorgeous Parks and Gardens in the Veneto to Enjoy This Season
- Exploring Vicenza: The Hanging Gardens
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