Veddw: Trying not to say ‘lovely’
Yesterday I finally visited Anne and Charles’s garden – Veddw. I say finally as I have wanted to visit for a while but have been a little intimidated by Anne’s approach to how people view gardens and especially the glossy magazine articles on gardens where everything is ‘lovely’.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I visited the garden. I had seen some photographs but nothing prepared me for entering from the top of the garden and seeing the hedges and rooms laid out before me. The garden is set out across a valley so as you look across the garden from the car park the ground falls away from you and then rises up. It also slopes down to the house which nestles in the valley and I should add there is more garden on the other side of the house.
I was completely bewitched by the view looking across the valley and looking at my photographs there are lots of the tops of the hedges and the way the light works on them and how they relate to the landscape beyond. At the top of the garden is the Tithe Garden, a matrix of box or I suppose for want of a better word a parterre but in this one each section is filled with a different grass. It represents and reflects the pattern of fields that you see across the English landscape particularly in the hilly area along the English/Welsh border. I loved the movement in this area and the contrast between the loose grasses and the strong outline of the box.
The area in the dip is made up of a number of enclosed rooms with high hedges. I’m not one for high hedges particularly when they are used to create rooms and in some spaces such as the Cornfield Garden I felt a little claustrophobic but then I was in a small space with three other people and a dog so it is hard to be really analytical about it.
However, there was one area that really didn’t appeal to me and two others where I wasn’t so sure. Anne knows about this and I know that she likes people to be analytical and honest so here goes. I really wasn’t keen on an area in the valley were the only planting were grey leaved hostas. As you can see in the photograph they are planted in a large block against the yew hedges, and run both sides of the path. Now I liked the generosity of Anne’s planting in other areas, I loved the Alchemilla mollis (below) around the conservatory which probably filled an equivalent area and also the ground elder (bottom photo) but there is something about the hosta planting that just didn’t work for me. I think there are two possible reasons. Firstly to me the planting is fairly flat and low in comparison to the height of the hedge, unlike the ground elder and Alchemilla mollis the foliage is dense and large giving a very solid feel. I wonder is adding something in a similar colour, maybe a grass, running through the planting would lighten it, maybe add some movement. Anne’s view was that this was meant as a pause as you walked through the garden somewhere for your eyes to rest before moving on to the next area and I can see that but it still didn’t work for me. The other possible reason is that I seem to have an increasingly dislike to this glaucous grey colour. I was very conscious of shying away from it in the gardens I visited in San Francisco and longing for a shot of brightness so maybe its something in my sub-consciousness that just doesn’t like this grey.
We had a discussion about my reaction to the reflecting pool garden. Anne and Charles have created a space, again surrounded by high hedges, were the only thing in it is a large rectangular reflecting pool. (Sorry – no photograph but you can see it on their website) It has been beautifully constructed so the water is exactly level with the surrounding path. The water is dyed black to improve the reflections from the clipped yew hedge behind which are shaped into curves. The only other thing in the garden is a bench; there are no other plants at all. I felt quite disconcerted in this garden and uneasy. It partly reminded me of a similar garden at Kiftsgate which I don’t like and I have put that dislike down to the silvery fountain at the end of their pool but the feeling was intensified in the Veddw garden. I thought about this a lot on the way home and I think my disquiet was because I didn’t know how to react to the space. There was nothing competing for your attention – no flowers, no scents, no noise even. There was nothing to distract you and I don’t think I have ever been in such a space before. I am used to there being something and I think it is worse than ever now with all the electronic gadgets we have around us demanding attention. But, it has to be said that the garden serves a purpose it is somewhere you can go to completely tune out, to reflect and not have anything to distract you so it fulfills its purpose – it’s just me that needs to learn to turn off!
Finally there is the garden on the other side of the house which Victoria called the faux veg garden. It is laid out in a grid and planted very simply with Heuchera Palace Purple and Cardoons. In the spring there are deep purple tulips and in late spring Alliums. Anne did say that it was this garden’s low point in the year and it was only because of the exceptional weather we have had that the plants were still looking good and hadn’t been cut down. She likes this garden as it looks after itself and when you have 2 acres of intensively planted garden to look after you have to admit this is a good thing. However it didn’t appeal to me and I’m not sure way. I don’t know if it was too still for me unlike the Tithe Garden or whether it was the repetition of such a limited plant palate over such a large area. Somewhere in my mind the image of bedding came forward but I think that is unkind as this planting was far more sophisticated and elegant than any bedding so I think it was just the monochrome sense I got from it that I didn’t really take to.
Right so now I have made some critical observations I can move on to say that I thought Veddw was one of the most original and thought-provoking gardens I have seen in a very long time. I have been aware of Anne’s views on planting and other horticultural practice for years and I have to admit I haven’t always understood what she was saying when she said people had too many plants. Now I think I have a better handle on it. What I think Anne means is that people should restrict their plant palate. By doing this you highlight the plants you choose to use and draw attention to them more rather than them being lost in a mish mash of other plants. This then gives a greater impact to the garden as a whole.
For some reason which mystified me yesterday I seemed to think that there wouldn’t be any bright flowers in the garden. I have no idea why as I know Anne likes bright colours. The garden behind the house is full of bright colours and has a different feel to the main garden which all its hedges and topiary. But if you look closely you will see that there is a restricted plant palate. In both these pictures one of the main plants is Inula, a striking and dominant plant. In one area it has been accompanied mainly by Crocosmia and in the other Campanula latifolia, both planting work well.
Thinking about Veddw on my way home and wondering what I would write about I was particularly struck with how much I liked the strong contrasts
between informal and formal or to put it another way the looser/wilder planting and the very managed planting. We have already seen this in the Tithe Garden, many of the other gardens with high hedges had loose planting within them and you can see it again in the Meadow (above) with the shaped Hazels (?) and very straight mown path through the middle. Also as I have said I really liked the generosity of planting. In one garden the only plants, aside from the surrounding hedge was a white Persicaria which, due to the excellent weather, had grown shoulder height. We commented on the wonderful feeling of being completely surrounded by the plant.
Veddw is a garden I want to visit again. I think it is the first garden I was disappointed to leave feeling as though I could easily spend another couple of hours just appreciating the atmosphere and thinking about the planting and how plants have been used.
How to translate this to a small suburban garden is another thing altogether. If I was to recreate one of the garden rooms I would probably use up my whole garden! But there are lessons to be learnt. I think I understand Anne’s argument on a restricted plant palate and I will definitely think about this more. I love the contrast between the wild and tamed planting styles and I think this is where the formality of hedges and topiary come into play and this could possibly be replicated through using more topiary to give structure in the garden. I also loved the generosity of planting in the sense of the big blocks of one or two plants that were used, they delivered impact and a wow factor. I think there is a bravery to the garden and an element of not worrying about some rule book or other gardening styles.
This is a very personal garden, it is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking gardens I have visited. Every element has been carefully considered and planned and Anne is still thinking and considering. She takes each criticism and comment and reviews them carefully to try to understand how visitors relate to her space. I don’t think I have met a gardener who does this before. I have learnt a few things from Anne yesterday; I certainly think I understand her arguments and viewpoint better but if I have learnt nothing else it is to look and consider not just the texture, colour, shape of the plants but the overall effect and whilst Fergus asks what can you add to make it more exciting you also need to consider whether you should in fact be removing something to get the impact you want.
From the number of “I think” I have edited out of this post it is clear that Veddw has left me with a lot to think about and I am sure Anne would approve of this.