Kristina Clode designed a sensory garden at Sedlescombe School for outdoor learning and play
After designing a garden for another school in Sussex, my own children’s school grounds needed some work. An old willow tree had been brutally pollarded to open up a space in what was an unloved area. The headteacher was keen to create a sensory garden and accessed funding of £5,000.
There is a steep bank at the back of the garden and a gravel garden at the bottom, which helps to create a secluded space within the playground; it almost feels like a little room. The garden has three seating areas of different sizes, including one under a shade sail, as previously there was nowhere for the children that was out of the sun.
In August 2017, we started clearing the grass and buying materials, and there was pressure to get it finished before the children returned to school. After a lot of badgering, we managed to get volunteers to help with most of the work, although we paid a landscaper to secure telegraph poles for the shade sail. Every child in the school planted at least one plant in the garden and helped to create the stone path, which gave them a sense of ownership.
Because the school closes for the summer holidays, I tried to put in plants that would provide long-lasting flowers, or bloom during spring and early summer, or in the autumn. I wanted to cover the bank with a drought-tolerant plant selection along Mediterranean lines, so there are two types of Santolina intermingled with grasses. Punchier colours provided by group plantings of Anthemis tinctoria and Geranium psilostemon weave between them to cover the slope. It should knit together in one big tapestry and keep the weeds at bay, as well as providing a show of colour all year round. Tall perennials and waving grasses bring dynamic changes in height and texture around the seating areas. I also added plants with aromatic leaves such as rosemary and Origanum laevigatum ‘Herrenhausen’.
Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter opened the garden for us, and Dixter’s Nursery has been supporting us with extra plants. The garden wasn’t watered at all over the summer, but surprisingly we barely lost anything and it’s all been amazingly full flowered and tall.
Unlike the previous school project, for which I was paid, I was working as a volunteer on this garden, and I had to do everything myself, from ordering materials to organising volunteer days. It was a lot of work to get the garden to completion, but we did manage to come in on budget.
I’ve been really pleased with how it’s managed to perform so well, despite so little attention. The enthusiasm from parents, children and teachers is wonderful to see.