Sam Southgate, horticulturalist at RHS Wisley, shares the story of how he created a community garden at Guildford Nursery School and Family Centre.

The whole garden should be viewable from most areas. This is so that visitors can play independently but still be supervised.

Sam Southgate
RHS Wisley
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Creating a green space which can be enjoyed by as many people as possible was a very rewarding task. I feel privileged to have been chosen to design and deliver the garden at Guildford Nursery School and Family Centre.

What we did

The space when we arrived was overgrown and in need of some TLC. There were no defined areas or any seasonal interest.

We had a brief to create an area where children could play and explore nature safely, whilst providing a space in which the local community could gather, hold events, grow vegetables, and relax together.

The design for the new community garden.

In one hectic week, we cleared and created the beginnings of a great community space. We built separate areas for sitting, relaxing, growing, and exploring nature.

Whilst the garden is still in its infancy, I am extremely proud of the transformation.

The process

Once we had measured the space and mapped where the existing trees were, I began to brainstorm ideas.

I settled eventually on a design which provided a space which had flexibility as there would be a wide range of visitors. Each area had a different feel but, by limiting the plant colours to a small range, the space still felt connected. The colour palette I chose was determined by colours most attractive to pollinators: whites and pinks, blues, purples, and yellows.

The loose design of the borders which would surround a seating area in the garden.

After drawing the design, I built a rough scale model from old bits of cardboard, cutouts from gardening magazines and a lot of hot glue (!). This helped me confirm if the separate areas in the design fitted together and if they were in proportion with the whole space.

Creating this model really helped my planning for the space - and I had a lot of fun building it!

The build

I would highly recommend hiring a turf lifter when converting grass areas - the time and effort saved using this machine is worth every penny.

Hiring a turf lifter will give you time to deal with any brambles! Use cut and cleared brambles to create a dead hedge - fantastic for wildlife.

With the turf lifted and removed, a high nutrition mulch was added to the areas which were due to be planted (well-rotted manure).

The plants were then laid out to the design and planted.
The honeycomb allotments.
One of the new seating areas at Guildford Nursery School's community garden.

Want to know more about the community garden?

Get in touch with Guildford Nursery School

Find out more
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Top tips for designing a garden for children and visitors with additional needs

  1. Visibility
    The whole garden should be viewable from most areas. This is so that visitors can play independently but still be supervised. Try growing low hedges, which divide areas but can still be seen over.
  2. Turf reinforcement
    If solid paths are not an option, turf reinforcement products can help to keep the garden accessible for all visitors longer throughout the year.
  3. Tough plants
    If you want visitors to interact with plants, they will! Make sure the plants selected are tough enough to survive a trampling.

You can contact Sam Southgate at RHS Wisley e:

About Guildford Nursery School and Family Centre

This maintained nursery school follows a Froebelian approach to early childhood education. In 2021, the school were awarded a Froebel Trust grant to work with the Centre for Research in Early Childhood (CREC) and Ama Education Aotearoa (New Zealand) and create The Froebel Partnership. Over the next three years, this special project will document and share the benefits and impact of a Froebelian approach.

Visit The Froebel Partnership website to find out more about the project: