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Tilford Cottage, where art and nature are combined to beautiful effect

PUBLISHED: 10:12 12 September 2012 | UPDATED: 17:46 17 March 2015

Tilford Cottage, where art and nature are combined to beautiful effect

Tilford Cottage, where art and nature are combined to beautiful effect

In this month's visit to an inspiring Surrey garden, Leigh Clapp explores the atmospheric grounds of Tilford Cottage, where art and nature are combined to beautiful effect

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2012


Of the many different gardens that I visit for Surrey Life, among my favourites are those belonging to artists, as the landscape becomes almost like a canvas in itself.

This is certainly the case at Tilford Cottage, in the picturesque village of Tilford, where Rod Burn has created not only a fabulous plantsman’s garden in a wonderful palette of colours but also an open-air gallery for his varied artistic endeavours in sculpture, painting and installation art forms. “I see the garden as an artistic project in its own right,” says Rod. “And my works there are a direct response to the immediate environment.” Adding to the overall effect is the ethereal, tranquil quality of the garden, which is also home to his wife Pam’s holistic therapies business.

A Monet bridge

An engineer by profession but an artist by nature, Rod has truly created a garden to be proud of over the past 20 years. Set around a period house that overlooks the hamlet of Tilford and the River Wey, the sloping two-acre site unfolds with elements of formality – from neatly trimmed hedges and fanciful topiary – in contrast to delightfully unexpected surprises, such as a vividly painted tree trunk, a grouping of wire-form people or humorous mobiles.

Along with textural herbaceous borders set around a large lawn, visitors can discover the herb and knot garden, a secret fairy garden, colourful containers, a Japanese garden, apple and willow arches, a riverside wildflower walk with Monet-style bridge and a tree house, and even learn about beekeeping.

Placed throughout the scene are sculptures and installations to draw the eye, designed to blend with the surroundings, weather naturally and also give a contemporary edge. Many are inspired by nature and use found materials, including dangling threaded pebbles and birch logs topped with large stones painted white. Glass is also a medium that Rod uses widely in the garden from panels in lattice fencing to abstract sculptures.

With such a creative garden there is always some new project under way. “We have had a busy year,” confirms Rod. “The sheep fence has been replaced and the old chestnut fencing used to make a teepee on the riverbank. Many new pieces of art have been added and my studio is full of new work, too, especially glass wall hangings and wall tiles. We have made cider from our apples and our bees have been busy, despite the rain this year, making us honey.”

Open studio

This is a favourite garden for repeat visits in different seasons and from year to year. As well as specified open days, the garden is open by appointment through the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) for groups of six or more. “We had about a hundred last year from Austria and we managed, but only just – a good size is about 30,” says Rod. “We enjoy sharing our garden with others, especially gardeners who appreciate the work we do. We are pleased to give the proceeds to the NGS since most of the money goes towards Macmillan nurses. I enjoy discussing the work we’ve done and am frequently asked to give talks about the garden and its creation from a blank field.” Or, one might add, a blank canvas.


Need to know:
Tilford Cottage, Tilford, Surrey GU10 2BX. Open by appointment through the National Gardens Scheme for groups of six or more. Visitors welcome by appointment all year. Call 01252 795423, e-mail or see

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