Q. How can I make the most of a sunny well-drained slope?

Drought tolerant Mediterranean plants offer an easy route to colour, scent and texture says Kristina Clode

Design for a school sensory garden using Mediterranean plants

by Liz Potter |

This stunning school garden encapsulates all the best things about wildlife-friendly, sustainable gardening. Designed to appeal to children, it’s got colourful flowers, fragrant herbs and tactile grasses to delight the senses, it’s low maintenance and the plants are drought resistant.

Kristina's award-winning design
Kristina's award-winning design ©ABIGAIL REX/GAP

“The design was made for our local primary school in Sedlescombe, East Sussex,” explains de-signer Kristina Clode. “I was waiting for one of my daughters to finish her after-school swim club and got chatting with the Head. She had just had the willow tree pollarded and the other parents were a bit disgruntled… so I suggested they turn that part of the playing field into a sensory garden to make the most of the space, and she leapt at the idea.

“I created the design, then volunteer parents and teachers helped with the hard landscaping and soil preparation. I planted the garden with help from the school children – each child planted a plant and laid a stone to mark out the paths.”

The design is organised around an existing willow tree and yurt, with gravel paths leading in and out. Three gravel areas are marked out with large cobblestones, with a yellow shade sail over one area and a story chair in another surrounded by rustic sleeper benches.

The highlight of the garden is the exciting planting palette – a combination of easy-care Medi-terranean plants for colour, scent and texture. “On the sunny bank behind the story chair I’ve used low-growing, mounding plants such as santolina, rosemary, cistus and Genista lydia, which lights up the slope with its yellow flowers. They’re a mix of evergreen shrubs with green or silver foliage that hug the slope in an arc of three, creating a framework. They don’t need deadheading or pruning other than a quick annual trim and they flower for ages.

“Hardy, drought-tolerant perennials such as achillea, amsonia and gaura help to fill in the gaps – chosen because they’re texturally exciting, flower for a long time and offer autumn interest as well. Repeating these plants is a way to knit the planting scheme together, while a fine bark mulch helps retain moisture and prevent weeds.”

Taller feathery grasses and perennials are planted in the gravel around the seating areas, creating height and a light screen for priva-cy. Many of the plants used here are reliable self-sowers, such as Erigeron karvinskianus and evening primrose (oenothora).

“Having a garden like this is a wonderful resource, helping children to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, how to nurture living things and develop an interest in horticulture that could last a lifetime,” says Kristina.

The garden has won two awards in the recent Society of Garden Designers Awards, including the prestigious Judges’ Award. Head judge Richard Sneesby described the garden as “extraordinary… generous, beautiful, stimulating, creative… all the things that you want a garden to be.

“It possibly sets a new high bar for school grounds in the future, and if it goes on to inspire other school gardens and proper funding for them, it might well be the most important Award we’ve given in the last ten years.”

Planting plan for a sensory Mediterranean garden
Planting plan for a sensory Mediterranean garden


1 Briza media Quaking grass with tufts of arching green leaves and oval-shaped pale green flowers May-Aug that fade to buff; sun and well-drained soil. H90cm (3ft) S30cm (12in)

2 Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ Handsome perennial with fragrant, upright, deep purple flower spikes June-Oct in sun and moist but well-drained soil. H50cm (20in) S30cm (12in)

3 Phlomis russeliana Vigorous perennial with whorls of hooded yellow flowers May-Sept on upright stems and heart-shaped leaves. Excellent seedheads. H90cm (3ft) S75cm (2½ft)

4 Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ Evergreen mound-forming grass with silver-gold flower spikes giving a shimmering feathery effect June-Aug. Sun or part shade. H and S75cm (2½ft)

5 Santolina chamaecyparissus Cotton lavender with aromatic silver foliage and button-like yellow flowers July-Aug. Full sun and well-drained soil. H50cm (20in) S1m (3ft 3in)

6 Rosmarinus officinalis Prostratus Group Low-growing rosemary with blue, bee-friendly flowers May-June and fragrant needle-like foli-age. H50cm (20in) S1.5m (5ft)

7 Cistus pulverulentus ‘Sunset’ Compact, spreading magenta-flowering rock rose (June-July) with evergreen foliage. For sun and well-drained soil. H90cm (3ft) S1m (3ft 3in)

8 Genista lydia Broom with arching branches bearing masses of gold flowers May-June in full sun and fertile well-drained soil. Deciduous shrub good for an exposed setting. H and S1m (3ft 3in)

9 Cistus dansereaui ‘Decumbens’ Evergreen rock rose with delicate snow-white flowers June-Aug and glossy leaves. Suits sun or part shade and well-drained soil. H1m (3ft 3in) S1.5m (5ft)

10 Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ Neat English lavender with fragrant flowers July-Sept for bees. Needs sun and well-drained soil. H60cm (2ft) S75cm (2½ft)

11 Geranium psilostemon Magenta cranesbill flowering June-Aug in sun or part shade. Long-flowering and fast growing, with good autumn leaf colour. H and S1.2m (4ft)

12 Hebe rakaiensis Shrubby evergreen forming neat green hummocks, with small spires of white flowers June-July. Minimal pruning for sun or part shade. H1m (3ft 3in) S1.2m (4ft)

13 Calamagrostis brachytricha Upright clump-forming grass with arching grey-green foliage and silvery purple-tinted flowers June-Aug, for sun or part shade. H1.5m (5ft) S90cm (3ft)

14 Gaura lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’ Graceful perennial with fluttering white-pink flow-ers May-Sept on wiry stems forming a clump in sun. H75cm (2½ft) S45cm (18in)

15 Stipa tenuissima Semi-evergreen with wispy yellow-green leaves that turn blonde in au-tumn with fluffy flowers June-Sept. Ideal for sunny gravel garden. H60cm (2ft) S30cm (12in)

16 Anthemis tinctoria ‘Sauce Hollandaise’ Chamomile with feathery foliage and creamy bee-magnet daisies May-July, ideal for sun and well-drained soil. H and S60cm (2ft)

17 Achillea ‘Moonshine’ Perennial with bright yellow umbels June-Sept on strong upright stems with feathery green foliage. Best in sun and well-drained soil. H and S60cm (2ft)

18 Symphyotrichum ‘Little Carlow’ Bushy perennial producing masses of purple daisies Aug-Oct in sun or part shade. Best in moist, fairly fertile soil. H90cm (3ft) S45cm (18in)

19 Santolina rosmarinifolia Green-leaved cotton lavender producing yellow button flowers July-Aug on neat mounding bush of aromatic foliage. H50cm (20in) S70cm (28in)

20 Amsonia hubrichtii Narrow-leaved, clump- forming herbaceous perennial with blue spring flowers April-July in sun or part shade. Good autumn colour. H and S60-90cm (2-3ft)

For a full plant list see www.kristinaclodegardendesign.co.uk

Planting plan and plant list in January 2022 Garden Answers magazine
Planting plan and plant list in January 2022 Garden Answers magazine ©KRISTINA CLODE/GARDEN ANSWERS
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