Veddw: Trying not to say ‘lovely’

2013_08020003logoYesterday 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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

2013_08020023logoRight 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 2013_08020025logoany 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 2013_08020026logo

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.

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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.

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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.

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25 Comments Add yours

  1. Emily says:

    “…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.” I love this quote–an excellent summation of the differences between the two gardens!

  2. amy says:

    Helen, I know what you mean about the “I think”, it is good to see lots to “think” about, but it makes it hard when you are writing about your vist. I am in the process of editing photos and preparing a post on a visit to Rousham garden, and I am trying to eliminate “like” and “lovely” from my writing!

    Anyway, I really liked your lovely pictures and write up and, it was very interesting and thought provoking (truly meant, but like, lovely and thought used jokingly!).

    Thanks for a great blog, I am enjoying reading it.

  3. Hi Helen,

    I would like to respond to your post gradually, rather than all at once – there is so much there to …err – think about! So this is ‘first’ =

    You are spot on about the Hosta Walk. Until a few days before your visit it had the fading Nectaroscordum siculum, and they were doing just what you suggest is needed – adding height and breaking up the heaviness. I get so relieved to see the Nectaroscordum gone (It’s a big job cutting them down, together with the flowers of the Hosta sieboldiana, which are squat and ugly) that I just enjoy the relief.

    But – you made me think: what if you came round that corner and there, amongst the (sorry – steely grey green hostas: they stay…) were loads of scarlet crocosmia! Pow!

    I am over crocosmia – ing. Intending to add some more to the Grasses Parterre too… but they are amazing and do the right upright, narrow thing too. Hmm. Then what – ? would it all look a mess when they went over? is there anything else that would do that job, but later??

    Am thinking hard now…..

    I’ll be back to respond to the rest of your post, if I may. And – there’s such an example from you of the generosity criticism is. I hadn’t seen the possibilities until you pointed that out. Thanks and thank you for coming and going to so much trouble writing it up.

    XXXXXXXX

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Anne
      I dont think Crocosmia is the answer though I love it and am about to order lots for the front garden next year. I think you are right and a pause is needed so something more similar colour but different, something light and wafty! The Crocosmia leaves would ruin the hosta planting.

    2. Sisyrinchium? Less colour contrast but perhaps you’d rather something more wafty.

    3. Studio TOOP says:

      And if you added an annual like Nicotiana – maybe Tinkerbell with its red undersides – would that be too much work? It would give you the impact you need till frost and often they will seed out.

  4. Annette says:

    I’m sure Anne will appreciate your review, Helen. Thanks for that one, very enlighting.

  5. Really good post. That’s exactly why I love Anne’s garden – it is a “thinking” garden. All the metaphors; the choice of plants; the colours – none of it is cliched or predictable, so it forces you to stop and consider carefully what your response is. Let’s go again!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Victoria
      Yes lets and thanks for the idea for the post title

  6. Hi Helen,
    Interesting to read another take on visiting Veddw, I also found my visit thought provoking and the garden quite unique and intelligent. I will be going back to Veddw without a doubt – winter would be interesting. I too struggled with the reflective pool and could only describe it as sinister in my blog post. Reading your more rounded description of what is actually there I decided that for me there is something of a pool in a memorial garden or crematoria about it?
    My reflections a few weeks on from my visit are that Veddw itself led me away from its planting schemes and garden characteristics and forced me to think about the space that is garden, and whats it’s for, why its there. Clever gardening indeed!

  7. Diana Studer says:

    Preparing to sell our (house and) garden is motivating me to leap into the reduced plant palette thing. Instead of buying something to fill that gap, I’m harvesting cuttings and repeating myself. So the noise is muffled and the signal sings clearer.

  8. You provided a lot to think about. I understand and have become more aware of my preferences over time and also become much more appreciative of the style preferences of others, even when those preferences seem to clash. Your post really added to the progression of that thought process.

  9. Thanks so much for the pics, Helen. Anne’s garden is one that really got me thinking last summer when I read her book for the first time. Nice to see even more of it in your review and to read your take on it.

  10. Hard to know where to take your thoughts on the cardoons and heuchera, but certainly some people don’t like it. If you are susceptible to claustrophobia you might have been troubled by it with the cardoons as they are at present – all at full height and surrounding you — the overview gets lost and it becomes jungle like. But I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else: maybe it’s the strangeness of it which is uncomfortable?

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      I think it is because, for me, is a very limited plant palate over a large area and I found it a bit dull but thats just me

  11. Anna says:

    Well done on not using the L word Helen – so easy to slip out both in the writing and speech. I’m sure we are all guilty of using it at some point. Always fascinating to see a garden that you have read much about and from what you have said the experience has given you much to mull over. Looking forward to visiting Veddw at some point in the future.

  12. bittster says:

    Thanks for the tour! It’s odd but until you gave grey hostas the thumbs down I was quite impressed by the photo and immediately thought about expanding the blue hosta patches in my own garden! I can’t get past having too many plants, and admire the commitment and vision of a gardener who can cut that away and really highlight the less as more.
    I love the cardoons, but then again I’m tall and love most larger intimidating plants! The heuchera bore me…. but again if there’s even the slightest possibility any one of my gardens approaches this level then I would surely litter it up in the end with bright orange marigolds below or large weedy sunflowers among the cardoon!
    Thanks again!

  13. Excellent critique of the garden, Helen. Exactly what I think Anne would hope for. The photos of the waved hedges are the best I have seen of the garden (I have never visited Veddw). Your evaluation of the garden was courageous, critical, honest, thoughtful and generous. What more could we ask for?

  14. Rose Lennard says:

    A really thoughtful and honest article, I like the way you are open to learning wherever you go!
    I agree with you about the hosta /hedge combo. For me, it comes down to the two plants not ‘speaking’ to each other in any way – they contrast in texture, shape, colour, line, tone. For contrast to work well (IMHO!) there needs to be at least one of these elements in common. Too much contrast makes the hosta and the hedge just appear completely unrelated to one another. Maybe the Hosta would look fine in front of a blueish conifer hedge, or a purple beech hedge (purple having lots of blue in it)… what do you think?

  15. I think (like that?) I’d have died and gone to heaven were I to get the chance to visit this and other UK gardens with you and Victoria. Love your contrasting comments and preferences. Miss our conversations.

  16. My best friend’s husband is one of the gardener’s there. I’ve had a few heated debated with Anne, but she is ‘lovely’!!

  17. What a thought-provoking post about a wonderfully thought-provoking garden. I really enjoyed reading about your reactions to the planting, and it has certainly reconfirmed that I want to carry on trying to use more of fewer plants in my own garden.

  18. Christina says:

    From your images of the garden I loved it; your response to it was very honest. I alwasy think we learn so much more from visiting gardens we dislike (if we take the trouble as you have to analyse why). In own garden I am beginning to restrict the number of different plants more and more as it is the areas with masses of one thing that give the most impact and don’t confuse the eye. I would love to visit this garden.

  19. Cindy, MCOK says:

    I’ve read both yours and Victoria’s posts on Veddw and enjoyed your different responses to different areas of the garden. I tend to agree with you on the hostas … I find it more bland than restful. Anne’s idea of Crocosmia intrigues me – they’d look smashing when in bloom – but they would drive me quite mad when they began to fade. They’re doing that now in my garden and they ARE driving me mad!

  20. Absolutely fascinating post Helen. I love Veddw although I share your reservations about the cardoon/heuchera garden. Like Anne, I like to use a restricted planting palette although if I am entirely honest I would have to admit that the fact that much of what I might like to grow does not grow well for me has been an influence on coming to that. Knowing that you yourself are very much a plantsperson I think your review is particularly thoughtful and challenging of yourself, as well as generous and careful in its analysis. Really enjoyed reading about Veddw’s impact on you. I do agree that it is a garden which makes you think, as well as, for me, a garden which makes you feel. I liked the reflecting pool very much. For me it is somewhere to be that stills the chattering mind and allows you to reflect. Can’t imagine that the dual meaning of reflection is accidental.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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