An exclusive Sussex dry hire venue with a “profundity of flora and fauna”
When Carice and Ben Irwin-Clark married at Ben’s family home, the Wild Garden’s event space was created from a boggy, overgrown area on the shore of a forest lake. We talk to Carice about keeping things exclusive in order to protect the site’s unique setting and habitats.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
The Hyde Estate first made The Wild Garden available in 2011 for a small number of private weddings each year. It was the location of two family weddings in that first year, which is where it all started. Initially wedding bookings only came through word of mouth as friends, and then friends of friends, couldn’t believe how beautiful it was and longed to get married here too. We started professionally organically after that a couple of years later.
Tell us about your location and site
The Hyde Estate is a private country estate secluded in the heart of the Sussex countryside. A natural wonderland of beautiful lakes, romantic gardens and ancient woodland, the estate’s 850 acres have been owned and lovingly cared for through the generations for over 100 years. A truly enchanting, picturesque and tranquil setting and, often surprising to our couples, we are only 45 minutes from central London.
Nestled within the estate, sits our magical Wild Garden. This is exclusively offered to a small number of couples each year to design their dream wedding or celebration in idyllic surroundings. The site features a flat parking area on an embankment with a dedicated space for a marquee below, and a gently sloping shore beside a lake. There is a dam between the lake and an upper pond which gives private access to a large wild garden beyond it, with mowed paths and a profusion of colour and blooms at all times of the year.
The garden is the home of rabbits, squirrels, water voles, deer and a large number of other animals. It has a Monet-style bridge, a double swing, and innumerable photoshoot backdrops.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
The Hyde Estate offers our Wild Garden for wedding celebrations of all types, as a dry hire site. There is ample space for up to 200 guests. There are no permanent structures on site and the choice of structure to house celebrations is entirely bespoke. Giant Nordic tipis, sail cloth tents, luxury stretch or pole tents, traditional or clear roof marquees to name a few. It is a dry hire site without power or water supply.
What services do you offer?
We offer exclusive use of The Wild Garden including all its picturesque grounds, lakes and woodland for three days (including set up the day prior and take down the day after). Our team will assist couples with site tours, booking and can make suggestions for all types of contractors. We have carefully curated an extensive list of the event industry’s leading suppliers to help bring our couples’ individual visions to life. We are always on hand to help with expert recommendations and guidance along the way.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
Every wedding at The Wild Garden starts with the blank canvas of a beautiful natural garden lake shore, and builds from there to create a unique event. Every wedding is bespoke and every future bride and groom is allowed to craft an event that is suited to them as individuals. Our dedicated team are passionate about celebrating the fantastic institution of marriage and will help couples create a truly unique and special occasion by recommending suppliers and offering advice on how best to make the most of The Wild Garden.
As the Hyde Estate is a very small family business we effectively welcome each couple into our home.
How do you publicise yourself?
The Hyde Estate conducts very limited public relations, preferring to keep our site to only a small and select number of weddings per year, retaining the exclusive feel. We are active on our own social media accounts and website and have appeared on Coco Wedding Venues, Hitched and Bridebook. The vast majority of our bookings come directly from our own website.
How would you describe your style or unique selling point?
The Wild Garden is a truly rare destination. We take tremendous pride in offering a small number of people the opportunity for a truly bespoke outdoor wedding celebration in a beautiful natural setting beside a forest lake. Protecting this unique setting and its habitat is the reason The Wild Garden only hosts a limited number of events each year.
Our style is natural and unforced, exploiting the incredible profundity of flora and fauna with which we are blessed, and our USP is the combination of exclusivity, private space, custom-made opportunity and the site itself.
What challenges have you faced historically?
The site was created for my wedding to Ben, whose parents own the estate. Ben was serving in Afghanistan and the now marquee site within The Wild Garden was a dark, boggy and overgrown area totally unsuited to an events space! Over a six month period The Hyde Estate staff cleared, rolled and planted the shore until it became the lovely open site between the trees which it is today. Upon return from Afghanistan Ben found the site transformed, and we were married a few months later. We now manage the wedding business together!
How did you manage through the pandemic?
Almost all of our weddings were postponed and as a small business we were hit hard. A couple of very small events did go ahead, including an innovative socially distanced outdoor wedding picnic. We were incredibly lucky in that only one of our couples had to actually cancel their wedding, all of our others managed to rearrange and we have just married the last of our postponed couples this summer!
How large is your team – any special people you’d like to mention?
Myself and Ben manage all our events and I take the lead as the main coordinator and manager. We work with two wonderful ladies, Jackie, who has been with us from the very beginning, and Sophie, a very experienced events manager. We also have a dedicated team of gardeners and groundsmen who ensure that the Wild Garden is always looking its very best. We are a very small and close team, with family at the heart.
Have you worked with any industry bodies or consultants?
We truly believe in a very collaborative approach and saw the importance of this during Covid when the industry came together and really supported each other. Our main source of support is therefore from fellow wedding suppliers. We all chat a lot and know that we can contact each other for help or advice.
What are your plans for next season?
To continue to host wonderfully bespoke weddings and enable our couples to bring their visions to life. We carefully evaluate every wedding to make sure that we are constantly learning and improving and we will continue to do this next year and all the years ahead to build on the reputation that we have carefully created.
Describe your average day mid-season
There are no average days on The Hyde Estate! We understand that every wedding is, and should be, different and we want to provide couples with the freedom to design their ideal day. We typically hold one wedding per weekend during a limited season from May through September.
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
My favourite thing is undoubtedly the incredible people that you meet and with that the wonderful variety and colour that it brings each day. Creativity is paramount and being able to get creative with couples and help their dreams and visions become reality is a real privilege.
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We have been fortunate in hosting a number of TV and film crews as a filming location, including recently the BBC’s Life After Life. We also offer private photoshoots.
What are you most proud of?
We are most proud of being able to share a private family-owned site with a fortunate few couples and play a small part in their marriage and future happiness.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
My advice to anyone that wanted to embark on setting up a wedding venue like we have would be to take your time, don’t cut corners and always be true to yourself and to your couples.
The Hyde Estate Wild Garden
Haywards Heath RH17 6DS