It has been called Brighton’s best kept secret, yet since its opening in Spring 2021, it has attracted 500,000 visitors. As locals began to surface after the grey Covid-infested winter of 2020 and took spring walks through Stanmer woods, many started to stumble across an exciting development behind Stanmer House. A row of ancient, dilapidated glasshouses had been cleared and instead, within the 300-year-old walled garden, were newly planted flowerbeds and any walker’s dream – an outdoor café, an indoor restaurant and shop. This was One Garden Brighton.
Stanmer Park is an 18th century country estate, former residence of generations of the Pelham family, extending from the South Downs to the edge of Brighton. During World War 2, it was requisitioned for Canadian tank-drivers to practise their warfare skills, and in 1947 the Pelhams decided to sell up to Brighton Corporation. It is now Brighton and Hove’s largest park and in 2017, the Council embarked on an ambitious restoration project, invigorated by a £3.8 million grant from the Heritage and Big Lottery funds.
Partnership with Plumpton College
One Garden Brighton is a business-focused project and has grown out of a partnership of organisations with Plumpton Land and Environment College at the helm. Head of Plumpton College marketing, Liz Mouland, explained that the college is the leader in land and environment education and training in the south-east, attracting students from across Sussex, Kent, Surrey and even further afield. Unlike many other land-based colleges, it is independent and is able to attract a wide range of funding to support innovation and expansion. It offers apprenticeships and both further and higher educational opportunities in a broad range of subjects.
Since the opening of One Garden Brighton, the college has trained over 1000 horticultural and floristry students. Olivia, who studied a one-year City and Guilds Level 2 diploma in floristry told me: “I absolutely loved it! It was full on, we worked really hard, but the teacher was brilliant, so inspiring. She had worked in the industry and had done the flowers for William and Kate’s royal wedding.”
Liz told me that two new degree programmes in sustainable horticulture and environmental land management will be launched for September 2023 and students from these courses will be involved in One Garden during their studies.
One Garden Brighton
The project comprises gardens, an indoor and outdoor event space, a shop where over 70 per cent of produce sold is from Brighton and Hove producers, a sheltered outdoor café and a restaurant (One Kitchen). This serves ‘seasonal dishes inspired by the garden, taking produce from the kitchen garden, Plumpton estate and other local produce’.
The shop – called One Market – sells award-winning wine from the college vineyards made by the Plumpton students of viticulture and oenology. It also runs a popular wine club. Meat from the college’s farm is sold here, too, the college students learning about all aspects of the process from ‘farm to fork’.
For the people
The ethos of One Garden is that it should be accessible, educational and sustainable. Take, for example, the series of themed gardens on your left as you enter. They were designed by landscape architect Dominic Cole, who previously worked on the Eden project in Cornwall. The planting was chosen to represent the kind of plants that we can all grow in the often-difficult conditions of our small urban gardens. The labelled plants can be bought on site. Any profits from sales are ploughed back into education and training by the college.
Horticulture is a billion-pound industry in Sussex, and yet it has one of the largest skills gaps in the country. As well as One Garden providing a learning resource for Plumpton College students in an endeavour to address this gap, it also aims to be educational for non-students visiting the gardens. Signs are placed around the grounds explaining horticultural practices, for example, the reason why training fruit against walls on wires took place for hundreds of years (attractive, saved growing space and encouraged productivity apparently!). We learn, too, about biodiversity and the fact no chemicals are used in the battle against pests, only biological control.
One Garden employs 18 full-time and other seasonal workers. Senior gardener Peter Wood explained how a government grant for promoting horticultural technology was just one stream of funding that has enabled the development of an innovative closed hydroponic irrigation system, in which water is re-used and none is wasted. Aeroponic towers (you can see them through the glass if you sit in the outdoor café) represent the latest thing in vertical farming. The soft fruits, vegetables and salads grown on them are served up in One Kitchen. Peter told me these towers are highly productive (e.g. 40 kilos of tomatoes this summer), using just 10 per cent of water and 10 per cent of the space of traditional greenhouse production.
In keeping with Brighton and Hove’s commitment to restoration, there is an important emphasis on re-using materials whenever possible. Original ducting from the glasshouses is used as planters, while old roof and farm building tiles were removed with care and re-used to create new designs. Run-off water in the gardens makes use of the original water catchment infrastructure to reduce mains supply demands. A 1950s’ palm house is currently being restored, due to open next year.
If you haven’t visited Stanmer for a while and go down to the woods today, you really are sure of a big surprise.