West Dean, Chichester

The gardens at West Dean have a traditionally English feel to them.


But as wide and expansive as they are, particularly when you walk up through the St Roches arboretum to see Edward James’s grave and look back at the house…

west dean

… it’s impossible not to sense the magic running through this estate. It’s as if parts have been designed for children (and adults) who still want to believe fairies live at the bottom of the garden!



Perhaps this isn’t too surprising if – as I was – you are lucky enough to go round the house and see the collection of Surrealist art which includes an original Dali lobster telephone and the rather faded but still splendid Dali sofa in the shape of Mae West’s lips.

One of the most striking – and poignant – pieces in the house though is the carpet James had woven to commemorate his love for his wife, Tilly Losch. He commissioned the design after Tilly left a series of wet footprints on the carpet after her bath.


(Although after she left him, apparently he had another carpet woven with the footprints of his dog who was more loyal!)

That’s not my photo above by the way, you’re not allowed to take photographs in the house although of course I wish now I had disobeyed the signs everywhere! Anyway… the idea of the carpet and footprints carried on in my walks around the garden as I saw flowers begin to cover the ground like interesting and mouthwatering coloured threads.


And the pebbles in the summer house made me long to talk off my shoes and feel the shape of the flower with my bare feet.


The shrubs looked like clouds you could skip over.


And even the moles seemed to be getting in on the act!


Just imagine what these gardens are going to look like by the end of March – a real solid carpet of colour.


So of course I thought of one of my favourite poems, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W B Yeats…

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Here’s W B Yeats reading his own work so you can get an idea of his accent, and how he likes his poems to be heard!

As an aside, although Edward James is buried at West Dean, for the last part of his life he made the garden of his dreams in Mexico where he let his imagination run riot. If you look carefully, I think you can see the seeds of this at West Dean.


6 thoughts on “West Dean, Chichester

  1. Beautiful pictures Sarah 🙂 I love West Dean Gardens – such a peaceful place to be! It’s only a couple of miles away for me, but still, I’d quite like to book myself in there for a writing retreat …

  2. Thanks Isabel – you’re lucky to live so near. I think I’d have moved in to that little hut to write on the quiet by now if I did! Lovely dog in your photo, btw, Borders are my favourite.

  3. I want to be sitting in under that ray of light streaming down in the back of the picture with the lovely little stone circle. What a wonderful place Sarah. I look forward to a visit one day down the road…

  4. I believe Monkton was a favourite house of Edwards rather than West Dean. Some photos of the house at the web site before he set about personalising it: http://www.countrylifeimages.co.uk/Search.aspx?s=West%20Dean

    The lady in the carriage looks like Mrs Wllie James, his mother, but my eyesight is not what it was!
    There is also a documentary on Youtube with Edward talking about his life http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oosdgHLTGY
    If you ever get back to West Dean go to rear of main house and there is a door in the wall to the church grave yard. It is open so go through and turn sharp right. In the corner you will find the grave stone of Edward’s father Daniel James and below it is the stone of his mother Sofia. They are still buried in Liverpool – but that is another story.

    The family graves are no in this cemetery but in one a short distance away in the village.

    Yes it is a shame about no photographs in the house. You may have seen a famous sketch of Tilly Losch outside one of the rooms upstairs by Cecil Beaton, but like you I did not have the courage to take a snap.

    • Sorry me again, error on message I just sent. The grave stones in the church yard at the rear of the house are Edward’s grandfather (Daniel James) and grandmother (Sofia James). Would you mind correcting for me?

      Elizabeth & Daniel James 1

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