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Nordic talking at Walnut House, Reigate

PUBLISHED: 08:49 07 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:38 20 February 2013

Nordic talking at Walnut House, Reigate

Nordic talking at Walnut House, Reigate

Combining influences from Sweden, Finland and Holland, there is very much a Scandinavian feel to the garden at Walnut House in Reigate, which opens for the National Gardens Scheme each year

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2010


Combining influences from Sweden, Finland and Holland, there is very much a Scandinavian feel to the garden at Walnut House in Reigate, which opens for the National Gardens Scheme each year



When Inger and Dirk Laan moved in 1976 to their new home in Reigate, one of several newly built Swedish style houses on the former grounds of Pittyfield House, they had the opportunity to create a garden from scratch. The resulting area continues the international feel with influences ranging from Ingers native Finland to Dirks Dutch background and the odd nod to an English style.


Our main aim was always to marry the garden with the house, says Inger, who will be opening their gates for the National Gardens Scheme twice this month. We wanted to ensure it stretched out from the basement sitting room, below the bungalow level, with views to a welcoming green space.


Formerly the tennis court for Pittyfield House, the gardens at Walnut House benefit from a flat expanse that easily became the main lawn and family area to accommodate Inger and Dirks two children as they were growing up.


Then, in the early 1980s, the garden became more of a priority and the structure of an impressive pergola leading to a greenhouse saw the emphasis on greater design elements.


I wanted to propagate and start plants from seed, explains Inger. So a greenhouse was very important and it also divided the garden from the sloping drive.


In order to hone her skills, Inger decided to take a design course at the Chelsea Physic Gardens in 1989, continuing a life-long interest in plants and gardening.


My father and grandmother were very keen gardeners in Finland so it definitely runs in the family, she says. At school, I can remember collecting native plants from the woods and fields, pressing them and labelling them with their Latin names. This gave me good knowledge that laid the foundation for recognising plants, looking at them and learning all about them.


Making a splash
With her increased knowledge of design, Inger set about developing the garden through the mid-1990s. Intrinsic to her proposed layout was a large pond and the aim of dividing the garden into different sections, each with their own colour palette.


Many Finnish people live by lakes and my philosophy was for a natural look of water with a sense of both visual and physical access, says Inger.


Too often, the ratio of edging can take away from the importance of the water. I wanted there to be a slope into the water, without a boundary, so that its natural to walk into the water.


Meanwhile, a visit to the Governors House garden in Williamsburg, USA, with its wonderful walls and buttresses, inspired Inger to place a series of architectural brick pillars diagonally across the lawn. They give a sense of linear symmetry that makes it more pleasing, she says. Also echoing the framework of the pergola, the pillars offer focal points and assist in the delineation of space. The elements of height are repeated with clipped conifers that lead to a paved seating area.


Uniformity is important in the garden, adds Inger. My aim is that I dont have to explain what I have in mind; the garden speaks for itself.
To one side of the pond, island beds of clipped shrub ivies, acers and bamboo give a woodland feel. Here, the colours are verdant greens accompanied by muted creams, yellows and blues. On the other side, around the lawn, colours change to harmonious pinks and mauves, while by the greenhouse and up the drive the hues intensify to hotter oranges and golds.


Underpinning the palette is a base of green tones from the dark foils of yew to lime green aeoniums in containers.


Of particular note is the interesting use of trellises and supports, not only for climbers but also for herbaceous plants. I was also intrigued by the ingenious use of the sloping space edging the drive where Inger has created terraced vegetable beds edged in rustic metal strips.


Everywhere, careful thought has ensured maximum use of the space and the result is an abundant garden with a great deal to interest the visitor.


Its so lovely to open up the garden for the National Gardens Scheme, adds Inger. It brings the community into your garden and creates a real feel-good factor, too.

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