A sloping, neglected plot overrun with rabbits would be too much of a challenge for some, but garden designer Kristina Clode was undeterred, using clever zoning and planting combinations to create her rural idyll
The owner - and designer - of an East Sussex garden has drawn inspiration from wild meadows and the borrowed country landscape, resulting in a relaxing haven.
Kristina Clode left London 10 years ago for an East Sussex cottage, to make her garden dreams come true. ‘We bought the house because of the garden,’ she says. ‘I was looking for a project – a blank canvas – and I had quite a long wish list.’ The garden designer loved the rural setting and grounds of almost half an acre, and opted to look past the rundown house, the sloping site and an odd collection of buildings, including an Edwardian steam pump house and a decommissioned nuclear bunker. The overgrown garden was covered in brambles and overrun with rabbits, but it had charm.
Kristina, who originally trained in fashion, went to study at Capel Manor before working for several garden design companies. Her knowledge and experience meant she could identify what she should do to make her new plot work. ‘It was all one garden with the house plonked in the middle,’ she says, ‘and I wanted a separate front garden and garden rooms. That would take you on a journey around the garden, and you wouldn’t see everything all at once.’
To get rid of the rabbits, she redid all the boundary fences, adding wire sunk a foot below the ground. ‘Most of the structure was put in when we did a two-storey extension in 2010 – the builders terraced some areas, put paths down and dug out a pond. Then we tackled each section a bit at a time.’
Now, the front garden has a wildflower meadow, which is in full bloom when Kristina opens the garden to visitors each June. Loosely planted ornamental borders around it
offer interest once the meadow is cut down. Continuing the wild theme, the pond is now home to newts and dragonflies.
Alongside the house lies the fire circle and a large terrace. Continuing through to the back garden, a circular bed creates the framework for a formal flower garden, next to which is a glass dome left by the previous inhabitants, and the greenhouse where Kristina raises vegetable plants and annuals.
The main focal point behind the house is a huge old apple tree with a swing. ‘Everyone is amazed by it, because it’s hollow, but still produces hundreds of apples.’ There are more seating areas nearby, with an upper patio outside the conservatory and a pergola, smothered in wisteria in spring. From there, a large lawn sweeps down to more borders, and reaches across to the vegetable patch and fruit cage.
Making this garden led to other projects, and Kristina has now set up her own practice. She will always be grateful, however, to have had the chance to create her own little piece of heaven. ‘When you are a designer, you stick to the client’s brief,’ she says, ‘so it’s lovely to have a space to make what I want, that has all the plants I’ve always wanted to grow.’
I wanted garden rooms to take you on a journey and you wouldn’t see everything at once.ó
The fire circle is a sheltered space where Kristina and her family likes to sit in the last of the sunshine. It is planted withPanicum virgatum ‘Rubrum’ and yellow Solidago rugosa ‘Firecracker’.
Raised beds and brick paths form the vegetable patch, while in the borders (below right) autumn interest is provided by Actaeasimplex (Atropurpurea Group) ‘Brunette’ and aster ‘Little Carlow’.
The pond is surrounded by Miscanthus sinensis‘Malepartus’, Eupatoriumpurpureum ‘Glutball’ and Darmera peltata.