RHS Wisley volunteer opens garden at 35 Tadorne Road, Tadworth for NGS

For keen gardener Rodney Lay, working as a volunteer at RHS Wisley has helped provide inspiration in his own garden. Surrey Life paid a visit to 35 Tadorne Road, Tadworth, which opens to visitors later this month, to see the results

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2011

Words and photography by Leigh Clapp


Described by owners Rodney and Thelma Lay as ‘colourful and curvaceous with hardly a straight line’, the garden at 35 Tadorne Road, Tadworth, is gloriously abundant at this time of year, when it also opens briefly for the National Gardens Scheme.

Densely planted borders softly edge around the lawns; island beds brim with shrubs; climbers happily scramble over pergolas; and there are hidden seating areas to discover too. Although Rodney and Thelma bought the property back in 1980, it wasn’t until after many years based overseas that they finally came to live there in 1994.

“It was a bit of a kick-around garden at first with a large, square, boring plot with straight edges,” recalls Rodney, the passionate gardener of the pair. “But as I had just retired, I was able to devote more time to the garden and decided to transform it into an English cottage style look.”

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Helped by Thelma, some professional advice, as well as a man to do the lawns, Rodney has honed his interest in gardening that was sparked originally in childhood, and through trial and error has gradually developed the garden.

“I was a wartime baby and remember my father ‘digging for victory’ and then later returning the garden to a herbaceous, ornamental focus,” he says. “I enjoyed gardening with him and knew I liked gardens, but hadn’t a great knowledge – and it wasn’t until we returned to the UK that I had a garden to develop.”

Making a start The first step was to shape the garden beds to create a sinuous effect and break up the square plot. “I knew I wanted to have curved shapes and remove straight lines,” says Rodney. Then, after visiting lots of nurseries, and gaining inspiration from some of the county’s flagship gardens, the planting began in earnest.

“I also volunteer at RHS Wisley and so work alongside many horticultural people and gather a lot of information,” continues Rodney. “An awful lot has rubbed off about plants and gardening techniques.

“I am quite shameless – I see something I like and am happy to copy it,” he laughs. “For example, I saw a beach theme in one of Wisley’s demonstration gardens and have created a miniature version here with a trickle of water and grasses.”

Muted tones of blues, yellows and white feature in the herbaceous plantings, while in one hot-themed bed there are more strident colours from plants such as cannas and dahlias. “I rely on the tried and tested plants, propagate and grow lots from seed,” Rodney adds.

Since 2001, the garden has been open on selected days through the National Gardens Scheme and, after enjoying the garden, another highlight is taking tea in the plant-filled conservatory, resplendent with a collection of scented pelargoniums.

“We enjoy opening; you meet such lovely people who say such nice things and it’s a great way to raise money for charity,” says Rodney. “Plus, Thelma makes delicious cakes as well – the only time I get them is when we open!”  


NEED TO KNOW: 35 Tadorne Road, Tadworth KT20 5TF Open Saturday July 30, Sunday July 31 (2-5.30pm). Admission �3, children free. For more details, see www.ngs.org.uk.

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