REVIEW: Ignite: Fire & Fantasy at Nymans

February 13, 2022

Ignite at Nymans Gardens, three men in the tunnel of love with a lantern in the dark

Ignite: Fire & Fantasy at Nymans

Nyman’s Gardens, Sussex

This after-dark winter experience offers the enchanting effects of fire, light and lanterns throughout the garden at the West Sussex National Trust garden at Nymans, a perfect setting for an illuminated trail, where you wander between flickering flames and majestic trees.

The first part of the walk consists of a series of elfin montages interspersed with wicker wildlife sculptures and the gardens themselves being lit in theatrical and engaging ways. Using the natural shapes and shadows of the trees and herbaceous borders to sculpt a crepuscular atmosphere. You’re given an opportunity to carry a flickering lantern, which is a nice  touch, and you follow the one way path enjoying the Pixie diorama’s as you progress.   Nyman’s is a wonderful garden to visit and an opportunity to enjoy the space at night is a treat, with the added whimsy of it being lit by flame, LED lights, atmospheric spots and up-lighting  adding to this wintery walk. It was a clear cold night so we had the moon and dark Sussex skies accompanying us.

There is a lack of narrative to the walk, although we quickly filled in our own, which is perhaps the point, allowing people to elicit their own stories as they wander along the trail.  The change from pathway, to walled garden, hedges, to open tree lined path was managed wonderfully well, so there was a real sense of  wonder to some of the reveals.

The musical accompaniments are disconnected and disappointing, more background music than majestic soundscape. With the set-up pieces evoking elves and other creatures of the night, wicker woodland animals, mysterious giant coloured crystals and some very sweet ‘can you spot the Pixie’s’ dioramas, the music’s range was light weight whimsical to shmaltzy classical music.  Vivaldi’s four seasons ( we get it… it’s winter), there’s no leaves on anything, the huge stark trees have been evocatively lit, hints of mist, a half moon, my breath hanging in the still night air, it’s magical. I’d like the music to throw me a narrative. To swell and move me.  This was a recurring factor, a gentle reflective piano recital of Clare de Lune for the frankly jaw dropping beautiful  turn which revealed a blood red ruined house and magnificent cedar trees, lit with an ocean of flickering lights, guarded with a fire breathing dragon, tinklely Bach for the woodland walk etc not the promised  ‘soundscape to inspire and intrigue.’

There’s no interaction to the lighting technology,  it’s a pretty passive experience, but charming and rather pretty nonetheless.  The willow sculptures are superb, with real character, there’s plenty of them to enjoy as you wander around and they are themed well. One or two moments are seriously impressive,  I adored the violently pink lit delicate Cyclamen’s flowers carpeting one space and an opportunity to see an early white rhododendron in full bloom, lit by the moon, some cheeky little snowdrops  looking like pieces of carved marble under the brilliance of the light, your eye is led to see the winter colour.   We’d have welcomed an opportunity to walk through the ruins as they looked astonishing as a blood red backdrop to the wander. The formal geometric hedges dressed in full LED netting shimmered in a dreamy white light and the brutal stark up-lighting showing off the majestic wintery splendour of the Lime avenue were arboreal highlights. Nymans also offered up the  olfactory overload of the sweet perfume of the Daphne tree walk, the night time air allowing it to hang and delight the nose. Worth a visit just for that.

Dress up warm,  it’s not a hugely long trail but dawdling along will take an hour. There’s a stop half-way for nibbles and warming treats, waffles, mulled wine, marshmallows with two huge charcoal braziers to warm chilly fingers on.

The whole thing is well planned,  fully accessible (with thought being given to sight lines etc) and the staff on duty helpful, chatty and nice. Parking is a short walk from the main entrance and if you book carefully you may avoid the early half term crowds or choose a full moon date.  The website shares its considerations of how this night time event may impact on the local wildlife and how they have attempted to minimise this.

Nyman’s is a superb small garden and green space in all seasons and this night time event is an interesting experience for all the family with some well thought out places for that perfect selfie or ‘Insta’  post.  The Tunnel of Love is a delightful touch. There’s plenty of opportunities for photo moments which have been designed with the social media crowd in mind;  we all love ‘that’ picture, and there is ample to delight and entertain the younger members of a group.

Ignite is at Nyman’s Garden until March 6th 2022

More info or to book tickets here

Nymans is just off the A23 in Handcross.