Out of Africa to Chandlers organic garden, Elstead

With this winter being one of the coldest on record, we reckon that the best thing for us gardeners to do is snuggle up in the warmth with a notebook and pen and start planning! Leigh Clapp went to meet Surrey garden designer Kim Budge

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2011

With this winter being one of the coldest on record, we reckon that the best thing for us gardeners to do is snuggle up in the warmth with a notebook and pen and start planning! Leigh Clapp went to meet Surrey garden designer Kim Budge, who grew up in South Africa but now lives in Elstead, to get a bit of inspiration


It’s a dilemma for any gardener: how much to stamp our own mark on things and how much to leave to nature – and for garden designer Kim Budge, who lives in Elstead, it’s no different.

“My head likes a garden in control but my heart loves to see an abundance of nature,” laughs Kim. “In my own garden, it’s a fine balancing act between beautiful exotics and staple natives, between orderliness and animal refuges, between an inspirationally designed minimalist Chelsea Flower Show garden and a place of natural beauty.”

Opening for the National Gardens Scheme this June, her half-acre organic garden, Chandlers in Elstead, is loosely divided into different areas, joined by lawn and rustic paths softened with tumbling plants.

Her natural inclination was for sun-loving plants, experienced during her childhood in South Africa, but as the garden had a large number of mature trees, it also needed an appropriate palette of shade-loving species.

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From the romantic potager with its step-over apples to dappled woodland, there is much to admire – and throughout are the masterful planting combinations that make this elegant garden such a show-stopper.

“As a garden designer, my style has tended to be one of strong geometric lines, softened by abundant planting interspersed with plants for winter structure,” says Kim. “I love using an array of bulbs to increase the season of interest and to layer planting. I feel that by using vertical plants and trees we draw the space above us into our gardens making them feel bigger and blending them into our surroundings.

“I also tend to choose plants that maximise the seasons of interest and wildlife diversity.”

Of course, one of the advantages of a garden with established trees is the abundance of wildlife. Kim points out that a mature oak can support up to 284 species of insects, and that slow worms, grass snakes, frogs, toads, newts and an array of birds – from wrens to owls – have also set up home in this shady ecosystem. “I do fence out rabbits, deer and badgers, though, as they could wreak havoc,” she adds.

Another important element to her designs is having a centrepiece. “A garden needs a heart, whether it’s a patio, pond or, in our case, two magnificent Acer griseum trees,” she says.

“Standing in the middle of our square lawn they provide a focal point from our south facing windows. The copper bark glows in the sunshine, the leaves colour up in the autumn and they look fabulous with a sprinkle of snow.”

Outside influencesGrowing up in the open spaces of South Africa, a love of the outdoors runs deep in Kim’s psyche. 

“My grandfather had the largest rose nursery in South Africa but uprooted it in favour of trendy asparagus around the time of my birth,” she says. “I did, however, still inherit his passion for gardening. From a young child, I had my own section of the garden crammed with agapanthus, fuchsias, acanthus and a heady smelling white mandevilla.”

After moving to England with her husband, and following the birth of their two daughters, Kim decided to follow a career that encompassed her passion for plants, so went to Pershore College in Worcester to study garden design. She cites influences ranging from the strong geometric designs of Luciano Giubbilei to Tom Stuart Smith’s sumptuous planting with strong structural punctuation and Prince Charles’ philosophy of working with nature following organic principles.

Appreciating the moment and her environment allows Kim to fully enjoy the fruits of her labour. “I looked out this morning to be greeted by a blue tit bathing in the pond, a blackbird patrolling the edge of the lawn and the blue streak of a passing jay,” she says. “The sun was emphasising the copper bark on the Acer and the Fatsia japonica seemed to be beckoning me with outspread hands. I thought how incredibly lucky I am to live in such beautiful surroundings.

“So often, we lose sight of what’s important in life, but I think nature and gardening helps to pull us back to our roots.”


NEED TO KNOW:Kim Budge, Designs for Gardens. E-mail: kim@budgeuk.freeserve.co.uk. Tel: 07775 607107. Chandlers in Elstead and the neighbouring Hideaway House will be open through the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday June 5 from 1pm to 5pm. See www.ngs.org.uk

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