A fun, contemporary garden on Reigate Heath in Surrey
High on a hill just outside Reigate, Surrey, Matthew Childs has created a contemporary pleasure garden that all the family can enjoy. Photographs Alister Thorpe
Designer Matthew Childs has long been inspired by the Californian landscape architect Thomas Church, and his maxim that ‘gardens are for people’, so a brief to create a garden where the whole family would enjoy spending time was for him like nectar to a honeybee.
The garden surrounds the bungalow of Jill and Chris Brady – originally the pool house on an estate once owned by film producer J Arthur Rank. After Jill left her job, she realised that the garden, then a series of scrubby lawns, dried-up ponds and, everywhere, the remnants of a sizeable rockery, had once been beautiful. The couple asked garden designer Matthew Childs to channel their dreams into a cohesive whole.
What Family garden designed to maximise fun and enjoyment.
Size Around three acres including woodland and walled garden.
Soil Sandy and acidic.
Hardiness zone USDA 9.
Alongside the practical requests for a swimming pool, pool house and a low-maintenance garden, there was one key emotional requirement, too. “I wanted my children to want to be here,” says Jill. “And when they leave home, I want them to want to come back here.”
Matthew’s first step in designing the garden was to think about its history and how its previous owner might have used it. “Rank made all the Carry On films and I had this fantasy that perhaps Sid James and Barbara Windsor might have hung out here,” says Matthew. “You can just imagine the laughs they’d have had. I wanted it to become that kind of garden again, a garden that was about fun.”
Inspired by the garden’s original design, Matthew has incorporated not only the desired pool and pool house, but an extensive natural pondscape, a large dining terrace, a contemporary firepit area and several other more secluded seating areas. With the help of contractor Belderbos Landscapes, the Westmoreland stone that had littered the space was dismantled, laid out and then painstakingly placed, rock by rock, to build the garden.
The stone is now the most prominent hard-landscaping material, along with similarly calcareous limestone on the terrace. To balance the environmental footprint of the concrete, used in the pool and its striking cabana, designed by architectural practice Surman Weston, Matthew tried to be as sustainable as possible in other aspects.
Though Jill had never really gardened before, she had started experimenting with growing cut flowers since she left her job and found herself becoming more and more enthused as the garden project progressed. “Before long, I’d asked Matthew to design a cutting garden in our walled garden too,” she says. It is here, among the raised beds chock-full of dahlias, lavender, cosmos and other annuals, that Jill now spends most of her time, growing and picking plants for her new business, Heathside Flower Garden. “It gives me goosebumps to think that this process has inspired a whole new lifestyle,” says Matthew.
The terrace gives several access points into the garden, stepping down to the pond, the ‘prairie path’, and the path leading to the pool below.
The crisp limestone of the terrace makes an excellent contrast with the light, airy habit of plants such as Stipa gigantea and Oenothera lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’, the tall, wiry stems of which allow views through to the garden beyond.
This seating area where the family like to have breakfast is illuminated by clumps of Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’ and Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’. Matthew has carefully positioned the two amelanchiers around the ‘prairie path’ so that they don’t disrupt the view towards the South Downs from Jill and Chris’s bedroom window.
The ‘prairie path’ is the hottest, driest part of the garden and has been planted accordingly with a drought-tolerant mix of herbs, grasses and perennials that includes Origanum laevigatum ‘Herrenhausen’, Stipa lessingiana, Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’ and Penstemon ‘Andenken an Friedrich Hahn’.
In the walled garden, Matthew has designed an attractive cutting garden with a pergola at its centre, flanked by beds for dahlias and annuals. Strips of wildflowers and lavender encourage pollinators and provide extra blooms, while an orchard area is filled with apple, pear, quince and plum trees.
To help the garden blend with the wooded landscape around, and to add evergreen interest and structure, Matthew has added a number of conifers including a large Pinus nigra to help balance the pool house and several small Pinus sylvestris ‘Watereri’.
Key plants of this Surrey hillside garden
Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’
It’s easy to find spike and globe flower shapes, but achillea provides a rarer horizontal flower. 1.8m x 60cm.
Oenothera lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’
Has a beautiful airiness that really does look like butterflies floating above other plants and grasses. 75cm x 45cm.
Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’
A great plant for late summer and autumn with good-sized flowerheads that deliver a really strong hit of colour. 70cm x 40cm.
Don't miss our piece on everything you need to know about asters or michaelmas daisies
This soft, floaty grass just begs to be touched. Can be short-lived but self-seeds vigorously, though the seedlings are easy to pull up if unwanted. 60cm.
Penstemon ‘Andenken an Friedrich Hahn’
A long-flowering plant with deep-red, bell-shaped flowers. Chop back to encourage a second flush. 90cm x 30cm.
Here's our growing guide to penstemon
Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’
This cheerful yellow daisy sheds its petals to leave dark bobbles of seedheads. 60cm x 45cm.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’
This lovely grass is great for adding movement to a planting. The splash-like seedheads are a nice link with a water feature. 1.3m x 1.2m.
Here's everything you need to know about ornamental grasses
A magnet for pollinators, it provides a vivid purple haze from June to September. 60cm x 40cm.
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