Feature in House Beautiful magazine August 2023

House Beautiful magazine

Feature in House Beautiful magazine August 2023

GreenArden Design was featured in the August edition of House Beautiful, talking about her garden in East Molesey, Surrey.


Leafy canopies and abundant naturalistic borders bring a very special sense of serenity and seclusion to this peaceful wildlife-friendly space


Garden designer Christine Wilford
‘Whatever the time of year, I can sit, look, close my eyes and just enjoy being out here’


Garden designer Christine Wilford with her dog, Wanda


I find great stillness in nature, so my garden is much more than just a collection of plants,’ says Christine Wilford at the home she shares with her husband Chris, in a quiet cul-de-sac in East Molesey, Surrey. ‘It’s somewhere to reflect and completely relax.’ From a sofa on the terrace, Christine’s carefully composed borders of herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses are almost within touching distance, a tapestry of different plant forms, flower colours and leaf textures. ‘It’s like having a painting that changes throughout the seasons and, whatever the time of year, I can sit, look, close my eyes and just enjoy being out here,’ she explains. A narrow pebble path winds to the middle of the garden where a small lawn is edged in hydrangeas and lofty grasses that veil a dining area. Behind stands a garden room and a tucked-away work zone.



Purple Geranium ‘Azure Rush’ and orange Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ scramble together at the front of the border, backed by the bold blooms of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’. Spikes of Lythrum salicaria ‘Fire Candle’ and whispy Verbena bonariensis add height.


It’s a very different picture from 15 years ago when Christine and Chris, both architects, first set eyes on the 1930s house and its suburban back garden. ‘It had a big lawn, borders along the boundaries, a huge conifer and several old sheds, but it was ideal for our family,’ recalls Christine. The garden also had an additional attraction for her as she’d just qualified as a garden designer, inspired by a passion for plants and the naturalistic planting style of renowned Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. ‘It was to provide a wonderful opportunity to experiment with plants,’ she says.



Perennials fill the borders either side of the pebble path. The yellow blooms of Phlomis russeliana, purple Verbena bonariensis and blue scabious on the right are echoed by the colours of the golden smoke tree and Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ below.


Irregular in shape, the plot measures 23 metres in length and tapers from 9.5 to 7.8 metres in width. ‘But you don’t notice because the boundary is disguised by plants and trees,’ explains Christine. The garden is overlooked by houses on three sides, so she has established trees to create privacy, including a golden Indian bean tree, Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’, which ‘brings light into the garden’, a smoke tree, Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’, loved for its fresh spring growth, and a mature liquidambar, which blazes a fiery red in autumn. ‘I bought it as a sapling and moved it several times before it came here,’ she notes.



A bowl planted with pink Delosperma cooperi and pots of succulents bring colour to the table. 


Once their children had outgrown the trampoline, Christine redesigned the space to include seating and dining areas, as well as a large, naturalistic-style border filled with her favourite plants. ‘The plan had developed in my mind over many years,’ she explains. Her issue was how to fit a big border into a small garden, and she alighted on a bold solution: ‘I decided to run a broad border the entire width of the garden, immediately beside the terrace so that in every season we can enjoy the planting from inside the house.’


The two sheds were replaced with a single garden room, built by Garden Room Sanctuary, which overlooks a new dining area. Both the dining and house terraces were laid with graphite-coloured clay pavers from Vande Moortel, and a winding pathway, laid in Scottish pebbles, links different areas. The pebbles blend seamlessly into the main border of herbaceous perennials interwoven with elegant ornamental grasses – a centrepiece to walk through and admire in every season. ‘It’s my playground for trying out different plants on the heavy clay soil,’ says Christine. Improving the soil is an ongoing challenge that she tackles by mulching regularly with compost.



Two rusted sphere decorations add extra interest to the lawn. For similar, try Cox & Cox.

Among Christine’s favourite grasses is golden hakonechloa. ‘It has a lovely soft texture, and the bright green foliage turns to burnt orange in autumn,’ she says. Then there is a variegated feather reed grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’. ‘It’s upright and compact, so doesn’t lean over as easily as taller varieties after rain,’ she points out. When it comes to herbaceous perennials, she loves purple loosestrife Lythrum salicifolia, a magnet to bees and butterflies; and Hydrangea paniculata, with their papery heads ready to catch the frost.

The garden faces due south, so creating shade was essential – the near terrace can become overwhelmingly hot in summer, but it is cooler on the dining terrace. ‘Even in a small garden, it’s important to have several seating areas to suit different seasons,’ says Christine. Come March or October, the best place to catch the afternoon sun is in the middle of the garden, overlooking the lawn – a cool circle of grass with a swing seat.


But the changing seasons are not just about temperatures, advises Christine; the quality of light is another factor to consider. ‘When the winter sun backlights the ornamental grasses and perennials, it is poetic,’ she says. Regardless of season there’s much to enjoy here, in a space that may be small in size but is great in its impact on both the people and creatures that use it. ‘When I’m gardening, I’m completely immersed in nature and lose all track of time,’ says Christine. ‘It’s a space where I feel safe and protected – it transports me back to childlike feelings of wonder and the joy of daydreaming.’