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Sustainable redesign: how the Iris Garden at Nunnington Hall is being reimagined

Nunnington Hall Iris Garden 3D concept showing water feature
Nunnington Hall Iris Garden 3D initial concept by Kristina Clode | © Kristina Clode

The Iris Garden is one of the few historical gardens remaining at Nunnington Hall. Thanks to a generous legacy donation, we now have the opportunity to breathe new life into this space with a fresh design that pays homage to the original vision, while still featuring a collection of irises.

The garden you see today descends from a design believed to have been laid out by Mrs Fife, the former owner of the hall, in the 1920s and restored to something of its former appearance by the National Trust in 1989.

This area is a much-loved feature of the garden, however as the years have passed the plants are no longer performing at their best, maintenance has become increasingly challenging, and the garden is looking tired.

In addition to creating a place for exploration and relaxation, the new design will make the garden more accessible, provide additional seating and offer greater interest throughout the seasons. Just like the wider Nunnington garden, this space will be environmentally sustainable and wildlife-friendly.

A new season for the Iris Garden

The project is being led by Project Gardener Caroline Bosher and Head Gardener Nick Fraser. The gardens at Nunnington Hall have been in Nick’s care for over 20 years, and Caroline shares Nick’s passion for creating a garden that benefits both people and nature.

The appointed garden design team at Kristina Clode Garden Design are also excited to design a garden that is regenerative and a boost for biodiversity. Kristina is a Registered Member of the Society of Garden Designers and has twice won their prestigious ‘Design for the Environment Award’. Her previous experience includes several years as a volunteer at Great Dixter, a Masters in Garden History, and a recent appearance on Gardeners’ World. Sam has experience in high quality landscape construction and is completing a Masters in Engineering.

Read more about the team and project progress in ‘Latest updates’ below.

The four members of Nunnington Hall's Iris Garden project team
The Iris Garden project team at Nunnington Hall (Nick Fraser, Kristina Clode, Sam Avard, Caroline Bosher) | © National Trust

Latest updates

December 2023

Winning designer selected

The award-winning team at Kristina Clode Garden Design have been selected to redesign the Iris Garden at Nunnington Hall.

Kristina Clode and Sam Avard were selected due to their incredible horticultural knowledge, bold vision, and passion for wildlife and sustainability.

The winning concept was designed to reflect the central layout and symmetry of Mrs Fife’s original garden. It will contain a range of iris selected to flower throughout the year and an exciting mix of wildlife-friendly trees, shrubs, perennials, ferns, ornamental grasses and bulbs to guarantee year-round interest.

The design also delivers on our desire to improve accessibility and seating, showcase art and sculpture, and inspire visitors to make positive change in their own gardens.​ The concept design is by no means final at this stage, however it provides us with an exceptional starting point.

Designers Kristina and Sam walking through the Iris Garden at Nunnington Hall
Designers Kristina and Sam walking through the Iris Garden | © National Trust
Mrs Fife and grandson Andrew in the Iris Garden in 1943
Susan Fife and son Andrew in the Iris Garden | © National Trust

Bringing the past into the future

By the time the National Trust took over Nunnington Hall, the Iris Garden had become overgrown and difficult to identify. ​In 1989 it was restored to something of its former appearance.

The stone paths were uncovered and re-laid, a central urn similar to the one seen in old photos was added, and the beds were planted with irises known to be popular during the original era – primarily dwarf and tall bearded.​

Keeping up the maintenance of the iris garden has become more difficult in recent years and the stone paving is worn and uneven. Many of the hedges and trees have outgrown the garden, and the irises don’t perform as well as they used to.

Why redesign the Iris Garden?​

The Iris Garden is a much-loved area of the garden however it now looks tired and has a neglected appearance even after periods of intense maintenance. The current irises offer a very short season of display, there is limited seating, and the paths are worn and uneven. The single path entrance and exit points results in visitors passing by, barely pausing for a look.​

Thanks to a generous legacy donation we now have an opportunity to address the situation and reimagine this space with a more modern and innovative design, whilst still retaining historical integrity and influences from previous owners and past designs.​

The new design needs to delight visitors with an invitation to engage and explore, improve accessibility, offer more seating, and adapt to changing environmental and climate conditions. It needs to offer a beautiful garden full of horticultural interest for everyone to enjoy throughout the seasons.​

What do we want to achieve?

A showcase of climate-positive gardening ideas

Nunnington Hall is one of the Trust’s flagship organic gardens, run in harmony with nature for over 22 years. We can now build on this with the use of innovative sustainable garden design practices. The new design will consider the impact of our choices with an aim to:​​

  • Reuse existing materials ​

  • Select plants that work with a changing climate and provide food and habitat for wildlife

  • Source UK-grown peat-free plants from suppliers who meet our plant biosecurity requirements (Plant Health certified)​

  • Harvest rainwater​ to top up pond level during months of low rainfall

  • Ensure ongoing garden maintenance is pollution-free through use of electric machinery​

A better experience for everyone

Two new entry points will be added to encourage visitors to explore the garden. Crumbling paths will be replaced with smooth surfaces, and more seating will be added so visitors can spend longer relaxing in this space. A bold selection of plants will provide interest all year round, with something new to see each visit.​

A ‘garden gallery’

Nunnington Hall works with artists from around the UK to host a wide range of exhibitions. This concept will be extended into the Iris Garden with a series of sculpture plinths for future displays.​