Quite a few people have asked me about the garden, and though I described it briefly in the early days of this blog, that’s now lurking in the archives. So it’s time for an updated tour. (And that makes it sound like – oh, I don’t know, Great Dixter or something. I wish!)
I’m not in the easiest position for gardening, though the climate can be quite mild (and wet; mustn’t forget wet). I’m in west Wales, on the shores of Cardigan Bay, in a village sandwiched between the mountains and the sea. I’m on the slope of the hills, about 100 metres above sea level, and as you can see (ouch), I’ve a good view of the sea, especially when the leaves are off the trees. But a view equals wind. Big winds.
(Proximity to the Irish Sea means that Big Snow is a rarity. But it can, evidently, happen.)
The garden runs around the house on three sides. It slopes down the hill with the top garden (behind the house) being about twelve feet higher than the lowest part of the bottom garden. Both the top and bottom gardens slope, while the middle garden, at the side of the house, is comparatively flat.
The three parts are separated by stone retaining walls topped with Rosa rugosa hedges, and the whole garden is surrounded by dry stone walls overgrown with ivy and, in one case, a tall hedge as well. I try to garden as organically as possible, and encourage wildlife.
The top garden is the largest part. It’s the home of the vegetable patch, immediately behind the house, and the meadow. Windbreaks are essential round the veg (though my beans seem to manage), and one day I’ll get round to making hurdles to replace the turquoise netting. One day. In the meanwhile I’ve grown quite fond of the colour.
The rest of the top garden was always known for its daffodils and primroses in spring, but I now allow it to form a (smallish) meadow the rest of the year; theres no mowing until the Big Strim in the autumn, except for the paths. This has helped the wild flowers increase even more, and the bulbs too, of course.
I’ve added to the snowdrops, and also put some more fritillaries in.
Daffodils, purple and white fritillaries and primulas in all sorts of colours and crosses (I had a red cowslip, but only for a couple of years) as well as classic yellow primroses fill the meadow in mid- to late spring. It’s a complete joy.
And easy to maintain, of course.
There are three birch trees up here, and three apple trees on the far edge (snowy silhouettes in the first photo). There’s also a newish Doyenne du Comice pear tree rescued from a bin at Lidl which seems happy. Apart from clearing around them and mowing the paths I just allow the meadow to grow, while weeding out some of the more – er, obstreporous – of the intrusive weeds (there’s a limit to how much dock I’ll tolerate, for example).
The apparently octagonal building is actually the back of an early nineteenth-century chapel, and the top of the hedge you can see is the top of my giant bottom garden hedge, giving some idea of the degree of slope.
In high summer the meadow is alive with crickets, and then comes September…
We strim it once everything has had a chance to set seed, take down the windbreak and give the now flat meadow a couple of mowings. It all seems very bleak for a while, and then I get used to it, and to the mushrooms and autumn circuses which materialise once the hay has been cleared away for a few days.
The middle garden is the only really flat part, which inevitably means that it’s where the washing line goes, where picnics and barbecues (and occasional attempts at working outside in the teeth of a howling gale) take place.
It’s also where the shed is. I say ‘shed’, but it’s actually the old outside loo (the ‘ty bach’ in Welsh, which means ‘little house’ – should you ever, ever be in a position to give a cottage a Welsh name, do not chose to call it ‘the little house’; you’ve just called your cottage a toilet). There’s no actual loo anymore, and it’s a good storage space. With its own weather vane.
It may look enchanting, but it’s full of tools, seed trays, lawnmowers, fleeces (I’m a handspinner), bamboo canes and dead ants. Only had mice the once, though. To date…
This garden has changed quite a bit over the time I’ve gardened here. Originally there were two trees at the corners by the gable end, a huge Western Red Cedar and a Rowan. The WRC had to come down – it was either it or the house – and the rowan brought itself down in the January storms of 2014. Or almost did; happily we got there with chainsaws just before it actually fell (the garden still contains three ashes, another WRC, a giant Portugal laurel and a huge cherry, as well as the birches, apples, a ginkgo and two acers, so I’m not lacking in trees). But these losses have meant a huge increase in light here, and though I initially missed the air of seclusion the trees gave, I’ve come to realise that the benefits really outweigh the disadvantages.
For one thing, I’ve got more planting space:
(with interesting stump features) and the difference in light has given the dry bed at the gable end a huge boost, particularly in spring. The flags love it:
Another storm loss was a massive old rosemary which was just to the left of this shot. It’s now been replaced with a couple of white brooms (gorgeous) and Salvia ‘hot lips’. The removal of the cedar happily also destroyed the wind tunnel which had previously ripped plants off the gable end and mangled those on the other side as well. I left an apricot-coloured climbing rose hoping it might recover, and it is now magnificent. The root is immense; I’ve no idea how old it is.
This garden is still changing hugely. In late 2014 a small bed surrounding a sundial was expanded into a much bigger one, taking up a lot more lawn but avoiding the best clumps of snowdrops. I’m still planting it up.
My veg once had a tendency to spread down here, but those days have gone. Now this garden is for plants, plants, more plants and a greenhouse. One side is dominated by a giant Portugal laurel, which rather obscures the Amelanchier, two camellias and the Magnolia stellata which are its neighbours. Again, its role as a windbreak prevents me doing anything too savage with it, though we do lop it until it squeaks every so often.
The somewhat cut off trunk belongs to an old cherry; it’s almost at the end of its natural life, so we took down a branch which was overhanging the chapel house just in case. In defiance of predictions of doom, however, the tree struggles on. It blossoms at Christmas – wonderfully. It’s staying put until it decides it isn’t.
The bottom bed in the photo above is packed with things like dahlias and heleniums,
part of my attempt to extend the flowering season in the garden. A few years ago all I had from June to September (when the leaves began to turn) was green – lovely, but there was room for so much more. The bottom garden was almost all lawn when I arrived; now it’s almost all flower bed. And there’s room for more expansion.
There’s a path at the back that leads to the old pigsty, dumping ground for empty window boxes, tarpaulins, windbreak netting and baler plastic. It is also home to what may well be the biggest and oldest ants’ nest in Wales. The Magnolia stellata which tumbles over it so photogenically was only revealed after I’d been here for a couple of years and decided to eradicate some Rhododendron ponticum.
This garden has the perfect greenhouse location. Um, to be honest, it’s got the only possible greenhouse location. It’s warm, it’s not overshadowed by anything, it’s easy to get to and there’s space for a water butt. We did end up doing major earthworks to flatten enough ground, but you can’t have everything. I grow tomatoes in there, of course, and have experimented with all sorts of other things. Like whitefly.
Oh yes, that’s a crindendron on the left (which will be another tree in a couple of years) and the other is the ancient pear. This has the most beautiful shape and is easy to climb in search of the three or so pears it produces each year. It’s that comparative rarity these days: a cooking pear. Again, its beauty keeps it here. If I was being totally practical it ought to be out. I think not.
There are more beds here – one, a newish one, abuts the side wall of the chapel house and contains a couple of black elders as well as some beautiful alliums and camassias in spring, and dahlias later on.
Lots of work, but it helps that I’m not completely hostile to weeds…
I even put up with dandelions at times; if the colour contrast is good, I’ll put up with almost anything.
Except bracken. I hate bracken. And couch grass. So, welcome to my garden. As it is at the end of 2015. Who knows what will happen this winter? Please, not more tree losses…