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RHS students design and build new garden for Guildford Family Centre

An RHS Horticultural Practice Diploma student, Sam Southgate, has won a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) design and build competition.

Every year, students on the Level 4 RHS Diploma in Horticultural Practice at RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey, work on a ‘Design and Build’ project. This is a part assignment, part real life project developing ideas for a garden in the local community. After a ‘pitch’ to the clients, they choose a winning design which is built by the students several months later.

This year, students were given the task of coming up with a design for a ‘play and learn’ community garden at Guildford Family Centre which provides support for local families with children aged up to eleven years old.

Sam Southgate’s design, Pollinating minds through play, was chosen as the winner. This features three key themes – the exploration of nature, contemplation, reflection and support, and community spirit. It is based on hexagon shapes with immersive wild planting and seating.

Sam said: “Every plant in the garden was chosen with wildlife in mind. The colour palette is kept primarily to pink/white, purple, yellow, colours that attract pollinators. A secluded area of the garden was designed to be enclosed. Three Arbutus unedo will be arranged in a semi-circle surround a seating area carpeted with Liriope muscari to help provide a quiet space.”

“The hexagon shapes in the design is a nod to bees, the ultimate example in nature of what is achievable when a community pulls in the same direction.”

“A small area of trees existed on the site already and the design utilises the play and learn element by developing a woodland play area. A dead hedge borders two sides of the area, with an evergreen hedge bordering the remaining sides. The entrance to this is a woven archway which will be purposefully low enough so that adults will have to crouch to get in but children can pass through easily. This space can be used as a teaching area or a woodland play area where the children can hopefully learn about habitat creation through the dead hedge.”

The new garden needed to promote family bonding, community connections and healthy eating for the groups and individuals who regularly visit the Centre. It was highly important that the garden acted as an example of best practice in inspiring families to spend time outdoors, and to encourage people to grow their own food.

Sam added: “The design has a substantial space dedicated to growing food. I designed the space but didn’t dictate what food is to be grown as I believe that the community will get more out of it if they decide what to grow amongst themselves.”

The garden will now be built at the Centre by Sam and the nine other second-year students over the week 28 June – 2 July. The build will be overseen by their tutor and landscape architect, David Wallbridge.

Sam’s design was chosen by a community panel from the Centre who said: “This design was well thought through with a clear focus on exploration through nature. The garden provides plenty of opportunity for play. Honeycomb shapes throughout the garden created a link to the honeybees which create strong communities within their hives. We liked the central area for the community to come together and the fact that Sam had left some areas of planting to the community. The children were able to play in their ‘own’ areas of the garden whilst still being seen by parents and carers. Sam had considered the use of simple planting for the centre to maintain and tough plants for the children to interact with.”

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