Private garden created between around 1947 and 1985 by Joyce Robinson (1903-1996), a market gardener and self-taught horticulturist, and developed between 1980 and 2018 by John Brookes (1933-2018), the eminent landscape designer who made it his home and teaching base. Denmans Garden was developed from a market garden incorporating an early-C19 walled kitchen garden on its eastern flank.
Reasons for Designation
Denmans, Fontwell, West Sussex a private garden developed from the mid-C20 by Joyce Robinson with modifications and revisions from the late C20 by the internationally renowned landscape designer John Brookes is registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as the personal garden of both John Brookes, a leading post-war landscape designer who popularised the ideas of the ‘outdoor room’, and Joyce Robinson a market gardener and self-taught horticulturist.
* as Brookes’ own home and teaching base, he used Denmans to test out his ideas for more than thirty years, and as such it represents his own tastes undisturbed by clients;
as the site of experimental work of Brookes and Robinson, such as the innovative naturalistic gravel gardens first designed in the 1970s, and the site of John Brookes’ own school of design.
* although the design of the garden has evolved over time, the overall layout retains important elements which reflect the ethos of both Robinson’s and Brookes’ work.
* with the adjacent Westergate House (listed Grade II), as part of that house’s former garden.
Denmans Garden (Denmans) was established in between 1946 and 1947 by James Hubert (Hugh) Robinson (1879-1958) and his wife Joyce (née Langmead), the daughter of a farmer who had grown up at Baillifscourt, Climping, on the coast. Hugh was a farmer and worked at The Worthing Growers. On her marriage in 1925, Joyce Robinson developed a garden at Eastergate Manor, the smallholding and nursery run by her and husband, and a second at Northfield Farm in Fontwell during the war, while raising four daughters; they supplied local shops with their produce. In 1946 the Robinsons bought the Westergate Estate at Fontwell, a dilapidated 34ha site based around a large house of 1820s origins, Westergate House (listed Grade II).
The Robinsons sold on Westergate House and in around 1947 moved into and refurbished the former gardener’s cottage (built in the mid-C19) on the east side of the lane across from the main house, adjoining a walled kitchen garden, greenhouses and farmland. They named this reduced holding ‘Denmans’ after the Honourable Richard Denman who had developed the Westergate estate from 1880 to 1903 onwards and built the stables, coach house and clock tower. The garden had been severely neglected. When the Robinsons moved in, there were several fig trees on the property, at least three of which still exist. The Robinsons and their assistant Bertie Read developed a successful market garden, selling fruit and flowers to Covent Garden. In 1948 they erected a Dutch-light structure (a greenhouse with zigzag roofs and gables; the structure was brought in from elsewhere) where Read grew salad crops, while the kitchen garden was used for early strawberries and flowers (the structure still stands, with the wood and glass replaced by polycarbonate panels). Meanwhile, by 1950, Joyce Robinson began to develop an ornamental garden, gaining inspiration from visiting local nurseries, botanical gardens and RHS shows at Westminster. She planted windbreaks in 1948 and in 1952 more specimen trees of Thuja lobbii and Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Fletcheri' as well as a Parrotia persicaria and Stachyurus Praecox north of the cottage. Some trees were lost in the gale of 1987 but a few remain, including the aforementioned.
Following Hugh Robinson’s death in 1958, Joyce Robinson continued to farm. She also extended her garden to include all the land within the garden walls to the south of Denmans Cottage. She developed into a knowledgeable plantswoman who was sought out for advice. She also wrote articles for the West Sussex Gazette, many of which formed the basis of her book “Glorious Disarray”. Lawns around the house gave way to longer grass of contrasting lengths where flowers were allowed to grow.
Robinson relished self-seeding plants that colonised naturally and in 1970, on her retirement from farming and following a holiday on Delos, Greece the previous year, she began a gravel garden within the Walled Garden. She used water-worn gravel from the seaside to grow herbs and tender climbers and perennials. Two years later she gave up growing strawberries and planted the orchard with decorative trees in a pattern of long grass and paths leading from the Denmans Cottage towards South Cottage (to the south) through a nut walk she also planted. In the early 1970’s, Robinson began to propagate her own plants for sale using the business title Denmans Plants, and she had opened her garden to the public through the Yellow Book. In 1977 she began a three-year project to create two gravel ‘stream’ beds to emulate the dry-stream beds of the South Downs. They terminated in a dry, round water hole, enforced by low banks of earth to either side and a large, flat, water-worn stepping stone was set across one to reinforce the illusion. The river beds were planted in a naturalistic style different to the rest of the property and included, rocks, gravel, grasses, willows, and other plants associated with water. Robinson developed what was then an innovative approach to planting design with a unique emphasis on plant combinations and naturalistic planting.
In 1974 John Brookes began to teach a course at the Inchbald School of Interior Design, and in 1975 he became its Director of Garden Design Studies. He began to take his students to West Dean, and en route discovered Denmans, where he became friends with Joyce Robinson. In 1978 Brookes left Britain to open a branch of the Inchbald School in Tehran, only for his programme to be curtailed by the revolution there. After traveling to India to continue researching Mughal gardens for his book Gardens of Paradise, he returned to London in late 1979 looking to open his own school of garden design. He found Robinson so incapacitated by arthritis that she found it difficult to manage her garden, and she was looking for help. Brookes agreed to take over the running of the garden for a trial period of four years while taking a lease of the derelict stables as a home and base for a design school. One of his first private gardens in the 1960s was for the architect Michael Manser, with whom he had worked at the Architectural Design; now the latter’s son Jonathan restored the stables as the Clock House (his first commission). Before going to Iran and India, Brookes had been largely focused on London gardens, with private, commercial and public clients, although he also worked on sites across the United Kingdom and Channel Islands. After arriving in West Sussex he continued to work on country gardens, with a third of his work coming from local clients, and during this time he developed the garden at Denmans. It thus came to define and influence his later career. From 1980 Denmans became a place for Brookes to explore and experiment, giving himself a freedom not possible when creating gardens for clients. He opened the Clock House School of Garden Design in 1980 and spent 37 years gardening there. He made definite changes early on to the garden’s design in the form of adding water features and redesigning some of the beds. Brookes continually altered the garden from the early 1980’s up until the month of his death in 2018; he integrated Robinson’s planting style with his own over the years and retained many of her original elements.
Ahead of Robinson’s retirement in 1984, Brookes formed a partnership with a businessman, Michael Neve, who developed Denmans as a visitor attraction. The need to feed the students led to the opening of a café and then a nursery, while Brookes continued to combine teaching and design work with writing large numbers of popular books. By 2017 the business had gone into liquidation and was rescued with assistance from Peter Gillespie, leading to Gwendolyn van Paasschen took taking over Denmans. She began restoring the gardens, with Brookes acting as advisor while continuing to live at the Clock House until his death in March 2018.
John Andrew Brookes MBE (1933-2018), born in Durham, was introduced to gardening by his father, (Edward) Percy, a civil engineer, and his mother Margaret Alexandra. His interest was furthered by his aunt, an illustrator and classical pianist, who took him to see Repton’s Shardeloes in Buckinghamshire and by Dorothy Stroud’s biography of Capability Brown.
He later went to France and northern Italy with a friend where he visited several gardens including Les Columbiere and Serre de la Madonne in Menton. While on National Service in 1951, he bought a second-hand copy of Christopher Tunnard’s book, Gardens in the Modern Landscape, and he later gave his other influences as Roberto Burle Marx and Thomas Church. In 1953 and 1954 he studied horticulture at the Durham County School of Agriculture. He took a three-year apprenticeship with Nottingham City Parks Department and spent the last six months of this time in the department’s design office with the Dutch landscape architect Harry Blom, who taught Brookes how to draw to scale and in ink, and introduced him to the professional aspects of landscape design. Brenda Colvin took him on in 1957 as her assistant. When she retired in 1959 she passed Brookes on to Sylvia Crowe, with whom she shared an office. He completed a landscape course at University College, London, under Peter Youngman, but grew tired of the very large public projects in which Crowe specialised. Brookes opened his own practice in London in 1960, combining design work for private gardens with work as a draughtsman and columnist for Architectural Design (AD). An early work was a courtyard for the International Union of Architects Conference held in a temporary pavilion on the South Bank created by AD’s editor Theo Crosby. In 1962 he became the first independent designer to display a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show where he won the Flora silver medal for a modernist design based on a grid inspired by Piet Mondrian, breaking with more traditional, horticultural orientated approaches to garden design by focusing on the garden as an extension of the house rather than as a display area for plants. The garden had to be functional as well as aesthetic so areas for composting and potting up cuttings mixed fluidly with spaces to relax and entertain. The clear simple lines were a trademark of Brookes’s early work. Although he won a medal, the garden was controversial and a ‘bit shocking’ for Chelsea, since plants were only one component in an otherwise architectural design (he went on to enter several more designs in the show, including three for the Financial Times, for which he won further medals).
For Brookes, structure, proportion and connection of a garden to its surroundings and the architecture associated with it came first. Plants came last, as he often admonished students and clients alike. The success spurred on Brooke’s practice and he began to pick up public and commercial commissions as well as private gardens, such as the redesign of the path system in Bryanston Square. A commission for Michael Manser’s own house, Garden Grove, brought him to the attention of modern architects, and he designed many gardens for new houses, including works by Manser, Stout and Litchfield and Leonard Manasseh. His work included public and private international commissions. His private gardens often featured areas of planting in gravel and a small pond, as well as spaces for sitting out. Brookes reputation was confirmed in 1969 with the publication of his first book, Room Outside – A New Approach, where he set out his new thinking on low maintenance courtyard gardens as an extension of the relatively modest middle-class house. The success of Room Outside and a growing reputation led to lecturing work, and in 1972 Brookes began to teach on a new garden design course at the Inchbald School in London. More than anyone else Brookes established garden design as a viable and respectable profession to sit alongside landscape architecture. Arguably one factor in propelling him along this route was his failing his practical landscape examination for the Landscape Institute, and Brookes was instead instrumental in the formation of the Society of Garden Designers. In 2004, Brookes was made a Member of the order of the British Empire (MBE) for his contribution to garden design and services to horticulture. In 2017 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Society of Garden Designers which he chaired in the early 2000’s.
Private garden created between around 1947 and 1985 by Joyce Robinson (1903-1996), a market gardener and self-taught horticulturist, and developed between 1980 and 2018 by John Brookes (1933-2018), the eminent landscape designer who made it his home and teaching base. Denmans Garden (Denmans) was developed from a former market garden incorporating an early-C19 walled kitchen garden on its eastern flank.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM AND SETTING
Denmans is a 1.61 hectare rectangular site situated on the east side of Denmans Lane, close to the A27 (made a dual carriageway in 1987) between Arundel and Chichester. It is bounded by the lane on the west and by fields to the south. The south east side is bounded by fields, and the north-east corner is bounded on three sides by the Denmans Garden restaurant and shop, entrance building, offices, Dutch-light greenhouse and a car park, beyond which lies Fontwell racecourse. The public reach the car park via a circuitous route through a light industrial area to the north. On the west side of Denmans Lane is Westergate House (listed Grade II), a large villa of 1820s origins now used as a care home in separate ownership, to which the garden and stables belonged until 1946. The west, south and south-east boundaries are formed by early-C20 walls, hedges and by the walls of the Clock House.
ENTRANCES, APPROACHES AND VIEWS
There are two entrances to the site. From Denmans Lane a private gravelled drive serves the Robinsons' bungalow and Clock House (former stables). The public enter through an industrial estate incorporating early-C20 bungalows on the north of the site, then twist round to a car park and entrance on its eastern flank, where a narrow entrance leads via buildings of 1985-2018 into a courtyard used for restaurant overspill and for plant sales. From here a second narrow entrance leads to the main garden between the walled garden, conservatory and propagating house. The outside world is deliberately screened from its surroundings, save for glimpses of Westergate House and its flagpoles. In some areas of the garden, particularly in the north-west corner, there are views of the top of the Clock House tower.
Near the centre of the garden is a bungalow, known as Denmans Cottage (a former mid-C19 bothy, later gardener's cottage; much extended in around 1947) and later, single-storey of brick and flint with a walled terrace extending westwards to the lane. On the same east-west axis lies an early-C20 propagating house and C19 conservatory; the latter was renovated in the early 2000's with new frame by Alitex, and an internal designs by Brookes. Nearby is a C19 pit house which was raised at an unknown date. In the north-west corner of the site are the former C19 stables to Westergate House, it was converted into a motor house and again in 1980, by Jonathan Manser, into the Clock House, a house, office and study centre for John Brookes. The tower at Clock House was built by Lord Denman to contain water tanks to provide the stable and manor house with water. The clock in the tower was created by Sir John Bennett (1814-1897)34, a London clock maker who was "watch maker to the Queen" and "clock maker to the Royal Observatory".
The bungalow, propagating house and conservatory divide the garden into two unequal parts.
The larger southern part includes the walled former kitchen garden east of the conservatory. Robinson created a garden south of the bungalow. A circular pond was added in 1982; it was probably designed by Brookes and is a device he used in subsequent gardens to pull the geometry of a site together. Brookes also introduced a small square bed to the west of the bungalow. He made substantial revisions to this area in the weeks before he died (2018), including revising the bed along the front of the cottage, removing almost all of the extant plantings and relaying out the lines of the bed. He also exposed the remaining walls and floor of a demolished C19 conservatory that had once stood directly to the west of the cottage.
South of immediate cottage garden area, Robinson laid out a lawn, leaving areas of grass long during the summer to create different textures and to allow flowers to grow. When in 1977 she sold her herd of cows, a small calf paddock became available where she created two gravel 'stream' beds made using sandstone and ironstone rocks from the Rother valley and water-worn gravel from Littlehampton enforced by low banks of earth to either side and with a large, flat, water-worn stepping stone set across one to reinforce the illusion. These she planted with grasses, bulbs, irises, thistles, mint, willow and elder, with drifts of violets, water forget-me-nots, musk and lamiums there and on the adjoining banks. From 1980 Brookes began to introduce additional native and exotic plants, reshaping the south area into a fluid abstract design with curved beds that flow into each other, and creating a pool (restored in 2018 with new edgings) as a terminating feature for the gravel streams (replacing Robinson's dry 'water hole'). He also introduced a figure of a boy by Marion Smith (stolen in 2018 and replaced with a copy made by the same foundry in 2019) overlooking the pond, and a stone cross by Simon Verity. Yew trees and other trees and evergreens screened the lane, and he continued to leave rough grass as Robinson had done reshaped. A blue memorial timber bench was later placed the west side of this part of the garden, on the site of the route of a former walk (known as the nut walk and which led from a gate in the western wall). Many of the trees are evergreens to give all-round colour, contrasted with birches and catalpa.
Robinson gave up planting the walled kitchen garden (located on the east side of the site) with market garden crops in 1970, and started to experiment here with gravel and an unconventional herb garden, while Bertie Read used part of it as a conventional vegetable patch; some of the wall climbers and roses Robinson planted still exist. In the 1990s Brookes began revising the layout of the walled garden. The key features were the brick outline of a circle and a square at the centre, a series of large, formally shaped domed and cubic bushes of box and bay, and shingle walks throughout. Blue timber benches - a feature of Brookes's gardens - and a giant terracotta urn focus the eye. In 2010 he made revisions to this area, including adding clipped box patterns in the lower portion of the garden.
In the smaller, northern section of the garden, Robinson created the gravel driveway to the bungalow and Clock House, screened by shrubs from an old orchard crossed by an east-west path and with a vegetable patch to the east. In the 1980s, Brookes remodelled the garden of the Clock House (formerly an orchard in the north-west corner of the site), retaining a few of the old apple trees but adding silver birches and a eucalyptus. He sank a new diagonal gravel path between low hillocks so it cannot be seen from the large terrace outside the Clock House. He added sculpture including three geese by Marion Smith, a figure of a boy also be Marion Smith, an abstract flint sculpture by Ivon Hicks, and a pair of doves by Marie Gill, featured at one of his prize winning gardens at Chelsea. He also added more blue benches along the perimeter. Against the north wall of the garden was a long but very simple timber pergola (removed at an unknown date), clipped boxes and ivies. He also added a Pteracarya fraxinifolia that dominates this area. The bedding plants varied, since Brookes used Denmans to experiment with new ideas.
To the east of the Clock House garden (in the north-east corner of the site), is the entrance area including outdoor café seating and plant sales area. The ground slopes slightly to the south, with a free draining, stony and slightly alkaline soil. Several of the surviving trees planted by Joyce Robinson are in this northern area, they include one of two Dawn redwood (Matasquoia glytostroboides; introduced to Britain only in 1949) which was planted in 1952, a Medlar and walnut tree (both near the café at the entrance; planted in 1972), along with pittosporums and eucalyptus.