Wednesday, 21 June 2017


photo B Beaven
photo B Beaven
photo B beaven
photo B beaven
photo B Beaven

When we visited Wales recently we went round several beautiful gardens [in the rain]. I hadn’t realised that there were so many examples in Wales although it should be acknowledged that early June is probably the best time to visit any Welsh garden; everything seems to peak then. The one which most intrigued me was Veddw.
Intrigued is the right verb because it was designed by a well-known garden writer and a garden photographer, who still live there as a couple. Effectively the garden has been designed for themselves: you can come and look if you want to.
Set against a steep hill with views across heavily wooded valleys to the skyline over on the other side, it is west-facing and comprises garden rooms bounded by carefully trimmed hedging which is cut almost like topiary. Except there are no spirals, roosters or other ornamental details such as one finds in dedicated topiary gardens; here it is all curves; all of the same size, repeating all the way up the slope. Within the rooms there are different planting schemes; in one there is a shimmering pond utterly clear, no weeds or other detritus which has the formality of the hedging reflected in its informal surface. A very nice piece of detailing. There is a wildlife garden and a large area dedicated to meadow planting; an orchard, a tiny lawn and a small vegetable garden.
The house itself is small, a little ramshackle with solar panels tacked on adding to the impression of a couple living very much on their own terms, not exactly outside society . . . I mean they both have jobs that must keep them aware of and grounded on the world’s treadmill . . . but very much living and doing it in their own way.
I should have loved it but I didn’t. Superficially, it is a brilliant, iconoclastic expression of two knowledgeable and dedicated minds and I am definitely for iconoclasm and self-expression, breaking the mould and all that but I found myself troubled by the egotistical nature of it. In a way, they shouldn’t open it up to the public. It can’t be about money . . . I think it was £7.00ea to get in . . . so keeping it private shouldn’t be a financial issue, its more about why anyone would want to showcase something so . . . so . . .  personal to the world.
It is unchanging. The planting palette is restricted. They have planted monocultures of brightly coloured grasses to suggest, they say, the colours of the crops in the past but you can never modify or alter this feature. When everything is finely poised, even if you might want to plant a swathe of dahlias, you can’t: it would upset the equilibrium and then you would have to change ten other things to restore that original balance. The designers will not alter the garden: this is it, fixed for ever.
So, you have no flexibility. I wouldn’t like that. I want to see the seasons: daffs in spring; lilies in summertime; Meconopsis finally opening their beautiful blue petals in September. I am sure the designers consider the garden to be a work of art, made to be admired in artistic terms. But it doesn’t nourish the soul, not my soul anyway.
Thinking about it later, I wondered if it could be fairly described as an intellectual garden. Is it about tension and ultimate release? By creating these rooms, then imposing a strict framework, forcing them to relate to the hills around, referencing the ancient history in the planting and the curved forms, what they have done is create something unchanging, immutable and undeniable. But isn’t that the nature of photography; or sculpture? It is not in the nature of a garden to be fixed like this. Surely the whole point is the freedom, the ever-changing reversible character of the space, the weather, the land, the personalities of the plants. Whether this plant flourishes or not, whether the rain will stop before everything is washed away, whether the wind will cease and there will still be shrubs left to admire . . . I think that is both the challenge and the delight of a garden. 
You need to go and see for yourself. It’s in Monmouthshire.

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