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Magnificent Gothic building – Fairlight Hall from the air.

Much to see, make and do at Fairlight Hall

Fairlight Hall, just outside Hastings to the east, is a magnificent gothic building surrounded by beautifully maintained woodland and formal gardens. It is the home of the Kowitz family whose philanthropy has made a huge contribution to our town and the surrounding area, in particular to its cultural life. Fairlight hosts a number of events each year that give people the chance to visit. Toby Sargent has been looking at this year’s programme.

This year will be the third selection of talks and workshops that the team at Fairlight offer to the public. Like last year, the range goes considerably beyond the purely horticultural, taking in food, cookery and quirky architectural history.

Fairlight water

Fairlight Hall is surrounded by many acres of woodland.

On 22 April the amazing Lucinda Lambton presents what I suspect, judging by her numerous TV and radio appearances over the years, will be a hilarious gallop around the weirder pastures of historic buildings and their sometimes quite bonkers owners.

On 19 May they’re hosting Tessa Boase with The Housekeeper’s Tale. Ms Boase, who lives in St Leonards, has written a book about the true stories of some of the women who ran Britain’s most prominent households. Tessa’s talk will include the chance for those attending to have exclusive access to ‘below stairs’ within Fairlight’s private quarters. These are both £20 a ticket with coffee and cake thrown in.

‘Gardeners, foodies and Italophiles’

A little more expensive, at £35 but also including lunch, Paolo Arrigo is at Fairlight on 24 June with Italy from Seed to Plate. He’s giving a talk aimed at “gardeners, foodies and Italophiles alike” about the story of vegetables and their place in cuisine, from Roman times onward. The Fairlight team will be providing a mobile pizza oven and everyone will lunch on wood-fired pizza made from seasonal organic vegetables from the exquisite walled garden.

Fairlight walled garden

Exquisite – the Walled Garden

For the same price, and in the same vein, on 21 October you can hear food writer Hattie Ellis and local master butcher James Wickens talking about Butchers’ Cuts and Cooks’ Choices: Making the Most of Meat. 

Horticulture is highlighted on 15 July with the distinguished horticulturalist Fergus Garrett presenting Designing with Plants at Great Dixter, to give you ideas for using plants to create an exciting and memorable effect in your garden, large or small (£20 with coffee and cake).

Really special

Whitney Hedges, the California-born – and aptly named – head gardener at Fairlight, hosts two workshops later in the year. Hand Tied Bouquets and Christmas Wreath Making on 18 August and 25 November respectively. The former follows on from a hugely successful demonstration she gave last year in Fairlight’s walled garden for the Ore WI (£40 including lunch), while the latter promises to be really special, with everyone taking part coming away with a stunning wreath for their front door (£55 including lunch.)

Fairlight vegetables web

Order and beauty – the raised vegetable beds within the garden

It’s good to know that the proceeds from these events help pay for trainee gardeners to be taken on at Fairlight under the Work and Retrain as a Gardener Scheme (WRAGS). This allows participants to come to Fairlight for a couple of days a week for a year, ultimately getting the chance to take exams and hopefully get a placement doing something they love. The more money Fairlight raises, the more trainees can be taken on.

The Fairlight team also work hard to support the Field to Fork schools initiative that helps young children understand where the food they eat comes from. Then there are the three days across the summer when the gardens are opened to the public for plant fairs and of course a number of piano performances, usually connected to the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition which they sponsor, in the Hall’s recital room.

The garden should be a place of learning

So there’s always something going on. I asked Fairlight’s John Carter about the ethos behind the various activities they support.

Fairlight garden

The garden is at its very best for the plant fairs when Fairlight is opened to the public.

“The Kowitz family aim is that the garden should be a place of learning.

“The first year of talks were mainly garden oriented. It was a big draw because it’s a private house and the gardens are very rarely open – the local people came and really enjoyed it. The second year we expanded into lifestyle things.”

The family’s enthusiastic support for Field to Fork seems to be a further example of the couple’s desire to help the local community.

Field to fork

“They are passionate about education,” John Carter continued. “We have to acknowledge that much of Ore and the area round here is deprived, so the idea of trying to help children to understand where their food comes from is essential. They’ve been supporting Field to Fork for ages – last year more than 400 children came over two days, mainly from schools around Ore.”

The children who come get the chance to experience 14 different activities, including fishing; bee-keeping; seeing how a spinning jenny works; close encounters with horses, llamas and pigs; a vegetable hunt in the walled garden; and the chance to make their very own little pot of jam. It sounds absolutely amazing. And the fact that it doesn’t cost the schools a penny (the estimable Ore in Bloom community horticultural group pay for the transport) makes it even more so.

Plant fairs

Not all local schools are willing to take part, however. John Carter mentions one – it will remain nameless – which insists that Tesco provide a better experience for their children. Perhaps…

The Fairlight plant fair takes place on the weekend of 16 and 17 September this year, and follows on from the one in 2015 when more than 2,000 braved torrential rain to see the gardens and visit the 25 or so stalls from the nurseries represented. John paid tribute to the Rye sea cadets who acted as marshals for the event, pitying the poor folk who had to launder their uniforms afterwards. Weather notwithstanding, the fair gives the Fairlight team an opportunity to get the grounds and gardens looking their very best.

A real force for good

I’ve been to Fairlight a couple of times and been very impressed. A jaw-droppingly beautiful setting and an admirable mission, all overseen by a family who are, without a shadow of doubt, a real force for good in this town and its surrounding area. Go and see for yourself.

Posted 17:03 Monday, Apr 17, 2017 In: Hastings Life


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