VISITORS have panned an after-hours experience at Wakehurst Place amid concerns over the venue’s direction.

The Wonder Project, which was billed as “an immersive evening art experience in the botanic gardens with soundscapes, sculptures and art installations”, received several strongly negative reviews from disappointed guests.

This comes amid rumours and speculation that the National Trust, which has handed management of the estate to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, may be about to resume control of the site.

One visitor, who travelled to the event at Wakehurst, at Ardingly, said: “The project was beyond uninspiring. I think I could’ve knocked up the same with a £100 B&Q voucher.

“No one at Wakehurst seems to want to admit that the event was shoddy and not really what one expects of a national attraction. It was more GCSE art show than Wonder Project.”

The entry fees for the project also caused controversy with visitors

Sara Fermore, a National Trust member who attended, said: “Unfortunately it was a really disappointing evening and I feel rather ripped off to have paid £30 for myself and my husband, especially given we are both National Trust members.

“I feel I have paid to see the sunset and lots of people I spoke to on the way round felt similarly disappointed.”

The estate has been under new management since the early retirement of long-serving director Andy Jackson in 2015.

Terry Butler, who worked for Wakehurst from 2000 to 2006, said: “This was the second poor-performing event from a new team employed at great expense by Kew to save the venue.

He said: “From what I’ve heard, long-serving staff at Wakehurst are becoming increasingly worried about the future there.

“They suspect that Kew may be about to hand it back to the National Trust before the lease expires, which would incur penalty fees.”

In reply to the claims, a spokeswoman at Wakehurst said: “Our visitor figures have been consistently strong in recent years, for example rising 18 per cent year on year in 2017 and attracting higher numbers of children, families and new members.

“We have received some very positive feedback on the event from visitors, but of course are sorry to hear that some were disappointed.

Addressing rumours about the estate’s future, she said: “RBG Kew run the entire Wakehurst estate under a long-term lease with the ultimate owners of the estate, the National Trust.

“There are no plans for this agreement to end, and Kew invests strongly in the botanic, horticultural and visitor facilities across the site.”