Award Winning Garden Designer Creates a Rainforest Garden for Shrewsbury's Severndale School

In 2011, Church Stretton garden designer, Mike Russell from 'Designs with Nature' won Gold at the Shrewsbury Flower Show for his 'Seaside Garden'. The garden, specially designed for the Severndale Specialist School at Monkmoor was sponsored by Lanyon Bowdler Solicitors.

The Gold winning garden included a clinker boat and a driftwood shack. Reclaimed timbers or groynes from Borth beach were made into unique raised beds full of colourful coastal plants to create a true feeling of the seaside.

Mike said "I'd managed to source quite a few authentic accessories for the garden, including an old 1960's boat, Bush radio, a couple of old deck chairs, lobster pots and even a surf board, and we also had fishing nets, driftwood, shells and old rope all collected on a trip to the seaside by pupils from the school". After the event, the garden was carefully 'relocated' to create a sensory garden at the school in Monkmoor and proved to be a huge success with the staff and children.

The Headteacher of Severndale Specialist School, Chris Davies said "the pupils response to the garden was fantastic. It is used by pupils from 2½ to 19 years old for a variety of activities from sand castle building to storytelling and gardening".

This year, Severndale asked Mike to design a garden, specifically for a courtyard space within the school. With the brief being stimulation of the senses, sustainable and fun, Mike decided on a theme of a Rain Forest Garden.

With years of creative and imaginatively designed award winning gardens under his belt, Mike and his team set to work designing and building a sensory garden for the 2-8 year olds – contained within the 9m x 6m courtyard.

A feature ‘tree-house’ was made locally by skilled craftsman Huw Morris Lusty, with huge timbers sourced from a single fallen lightning struck oak tree on the Welsh Borders. The specially designed roof created to simulate rain. Water cascades down the corrugated roof, drips into troughs below, pours into pebble streams, to a tank under a bridge. Water is then pumped back up to the top of the roof. The system collects rainwater to keep it topped up, and galavanised troughs are planted up with aquatic plants that filter the water.

With a tropically inspired planting scheme, incorporating plants that offer diverse colour, textures and sound; from tree ferns to fig trees, bamboos and palms along with exotic flowers and overhead twining climbing plants, you really feel as though you are in another country!

Mike continued "the garden comes to life with sounds of the jungle. When you venture down the forest path through the garden, pressure sensors activate rainforest sounds, such as frogs, crickets, thunderstorms, tropical birds and hissing snakes".

Beautifully carved animals by local woodcarver Dave Bytheway are found dotted around the forest garden, such as parrots, toucans, snake and a crocodile hiding under the bridge.
The garden also incorporates musical bamboo archways with chimes and instruments, made from huge sustainable and reclaimed bamboo poles.

Mike said "this has been a really exciting project for us. To design a space that will be used as a sensory garden is always challenging and very rewarding". Mike continued "with plants bought from Dingle Nurseries near Welshpool and specialist bamboo sourced from 'Jungle Giants' in Onibury. our ethos at 'Designs with Nature' is to fully utilise as many local crafts people and suppliers as we can, as well as using sustainable or reclaimed products where possible".

With the whole project build being completed at the school within a very busy four week period, the team at 'Designs With Nature' are very excited to see how the children at Severndale will react and interact with the garden.

Mike continued "It does take a while from the initial concept to completion – but the hard work is all worth it to know that the garden will bring so much joy and surprise to the children that experience it".
Severndale's Headteacher, Chris said "the garden development occurred during the summer holidays, so it was quite a shock for staff, as they left an open courtyard and returned to a Rainforest Garden". Chris continued "the reactions have been astounding.  Pupils have been delighted with the change and have started to use the area. The area will now mature and develop with use and I am sure will become equally as popular as the Seaside Garden".

With a gardening style that has been described as ‘sensitive and natural’ Mike’s local list of projects include the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Hope House Hospice, Fordhall Farm, and many other residential, school & community gardens.

Mikes impressive list of awards includes the aforementioned Gold award from the 2011 Shrewsbury Flower Show for his 'Seaside Garden', and in the same year Mike won a Silver Gilt medal at the Royal Horticultural Malvern Spring Gardening Show for the 'Budding Scientist Garden’. In 2010 Mike won Gold and Best at Show at the Shrewsbury Flower Show for a garden designed for Headway and he has also scooped two other RHS Silver Gilt Awards in the past at BBC Gardeners World Live.

Mikes website is at


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