Garden diary

Winter rose pruning


With the start of the new year, I find myself reflecting on the previous ten and wondering, with eager anticipation, what the new decade will reveal. 

Within the fabulous world of horticulture a span of ten years can be incredibly diverse and the passage of time ebbs and flows with the passing of the seasons. Gardeners can witness and enjoy so many wonderful changes within the garden where flora and fauna intertwine and weave their magic.

Much can be gained by observing, enjoying and sharing the journey of the garden with others. In essence gardening can be a fabulous learning experience that can enrich one's soul for a lifetime.

No doubt, that the elements and the occasional pests and diseases can be challenging. However, in the grand scheme of things it's just nature reminding us who is the boss. As my lovely Grandma used to say, "Be patient Dean, it will all come out in the wash."

So here I am, once again embarking on a new year of gardening, fully immersed in the garden at Allt y bela....I would not have imagined this journey ten years ago!

January 2020

January is always a busy month in the garden and I have been making best use of the mild weather at Allt y Bela to undertake pruning work on our rose and fruit collection. 

Having previously lived in Berkshire for 10 years, I can confirm South Wales is without question, wet, wild and stunningly beautiful. The pruning work over the last couple of weeks has been rather damp, but very productive and enjoyable.

The weather may have been wet, but a brief moment this week between menacing clouds and heavy rain, followed by a band of crystal light as the rain passed overhead, gave me my first Allt y bela rainbow. Alas, after much searching there was no pot of gold underneath the Fagus.

Many of the roses at Allt y bela are grown on hazel domes to create informal structures within the borders. These domes complement and mirror the topiary. Our rose domes are constructed using hazel stems coppiced from the surrounding woodland which is rich in renewable material.

You need a good sharp pocket saw and a keen eye to select just the right stems. I have used birch stems previously, and they work equally well for dome supports. Birch is also excellent for staking herbaceous perennials. The stems have side branches which are flat by nature and they have a delicate appearance once they have been woven together to form a support. Whatever you have to hand, natural supports are a preferable approach and can be recycled without harm to the environment.

At Allt y bela I have selected hazel stems which are long and naturally curved; the stems should ideally be no thicker than 2-3 cm at the base and thin and wispy at the top. This size provides the best flexibility and the wispy top is pliable and easy to weave. 

Staking is all about providing support to the rose (climber or rambler), without the structure becoming the dominant feature. In summer the rose should be full of flower, and the staking invisible to the eye.

Step by Step - Rose dome construction

Cut a point on each of the hazel stems this makes it easier to insert into the soil.
If the soil is firm, you can make a hole in the soil using a wooden stake or metal bar.
Carefully flex the hazel stem across your knee or shoulder, this will encourage the woody fibres within the stem to stretch helping it to become more pliable.
Push the pointed hazel stem into the soil so that it is on a slight angle beyond vertical with the curve of the hazel bending inwards.
Push the stem into the soil as far as it will go, until it feels secure.
Repeat this process 4 - 6 times to form a circle around the rose plant.
Once the stems are in place, bend the stems to shape to form a dome 120cm - 150cm high (The domes we build at Allt y bela are approximately 120 cm in diameter.)
Weave the hazel stems together in pairs using string or rubber tie to secure them into place until you achieve a dome.

Rose pruning (climber or rambler)

January is an ideal time to prune rose climbers and ramblers, particularly if the weather is relatively mild. Avoid pruning on cold icy days, it's not much fun and it can be damaging to the rose stems and your spirit.

Roses respond favourably to a constant process of renewal, pruning helps to encourage growth and vigour. It also helps to build a strong framework and encourages lateral stems to grow, which ultimately produce beautiful flowers.

I always find it useful to review the rose plant for a few minutes prior to pruning. Look at each of the main rose stems carefully to determine what wood is old. If you have an abundance of old and new wood, you can remove a few of the old stems completely to ground level.

Pruning tip: when removing thicker rose stems always use a pair of sharp loppers or a pocket saw. Prune back the stems cleanly and tightly so that the base of the rose plant looks neat and you then avoid leaving unsightly stubs, which could potentially rot and weaken the rose.

If there are not many new stems, retain the old stems and prune these back to the strongest lateral.

Make sure your chosen secateurs are sharp and clean before you start. This makes pruning far more enjoyable and comfortable to complete, and you can be assured of clean, precise and satisfying pruning cuts.

Don't be daunted by rose pruning, take your time pruning each main stem carefully. Remove any dead or diseased wood and old foliage. The lateral growths (thinner stems growing from the main stem) can be pruned to 2 - 3 buds. 

Cultivation tip: Removing the old foliage off the rose stems and collecting it from around the base of the rose helps to reduce the risk of potential diseases.

Pruning cuts should be made 5mm above the rose bud at a slight angle. This may seem a bit prescriptive, but this is the optimum technique that helps avoid damage to the dormant bud and will help reduce future die back.

And now for the best bit, tying in and training.........

Once pruning has been completed, you can begin weaving the rose stems onto your newly constructed hazel dome.

Before you start weaving, look carefully at how the rose stems naturally cross or lie around the hazel dome. You can then determine an order of tying in, which will give you the best coverage and aesthetic. 

Pick up each rose stem and bend it around the framework of the hazel dome, tying it in as you go. Try and cross the stems over each other to form a simple basket weave. 

You may find that you have too many rose stems to accommodate onto the hazel dome. If this is the case, aim for light and airy; you may have to remove a couple of rose stems at the base so that the dome does not become too congested. 

I have noted over the years that light penetration and good air circulation is key and will make for a very contented rose plant.

Flowering tip: Bending the rose stems slows down the sap flow in the rose stem and encourages flowering laterals to develop.

Once weaving/tying in has been completed, stand back with a cuppa and admire your rose dome creation, think of long summer days, beautiful rose blooms and heavenly perfume.

During the summer months, revisit the rose support and tie in any newly developing long rose stems.

It is best to do this job in summer because the new rose stems are soft and pliable and easy to bend into place. These new rose stems are also valuable potential new wood for the following season's pruning work.

Dead heading is a useful weekly task to encourage repeat flowering on climbers. 

Rather than dead heading with secateurs, I use the snapping off technique whereby you snap off the rose bloom just below the short section of stem and the first pair of leaves. 

If you look carefully below the rose bloom you will see a small swollen section which is called the abscission layer. This is the place on the rose plant where the old rose bloom would fall off naturally, given time, and away from eager secateurs.

In January 2021 you can prune your roses while they are still secured on the old hazel rose dome. Once pruning has been completed, remove the entire rose from the old dome and construct a new hazel dome. The newly pruned rose can easily be tied onto the new support.

You can apply the same techniques to climbing and rambling roses located on walls or fences by bending and tying in the pruned main stems onto horizontal support wires.

Roses, in general, enjoy a dressing of blood fish and bone in early spring, lightly cultivated into the soil around the base of the plant. This can be followed by a dressing of mulch which helps to retain moisture and keeps the roots cool.

Closing Thoughts

Like all new gardening experiences, I am on a learning curve, exploring the intricacies of the garden and how the plants grow and respond to care at Allt y bela.

Every garden is unique, and over time you build up an intricate knowledge, which becomes a subconscious companion guiding you through the seasons……Whatever happens, it will all come out in the wash!

Happy gardening...



Words and photographs: Dean Peckett

If you would like to learn more about how to observe and work with the changing of the seasons, Dean is running a seasonal gardening course at Allt y bela, starting in March.

For more details click here. 



"I believe in fate" - introducing Dean Peckett


I believe in fate. Perhaps our lives and experiences are inter-woven like the roots and mycorrhizal fungi of an ancient oak, living within a boundless forest. These connecting roots carry each of us on a unique journey through life...I am grateful to say that my wonderful fate has been gardening.

When I look back over the last 40 years I cannot imagine where I would be without my love and passion for gardening. It has kept me safe when times have been difficult. It has also brought me much personal satisfaction and joy. I am also very thankful for the generous support of family, friends and colleagues who have helped to guide me along my journey.

It all started with a yellow dahlia! I did not realise it at the time, but that dahlia would be the catalyst for my future ahead. Let me explain....

My grandfather, Herbert (second from the left in the photograph), was a steel worker who made gardening tools. These tools were hand-forged using Sheffield's finest stainless steel, in an era of industry when craftsmanship was carried with pride. He was also a keen gardener with a passion for growing dahlias, which he lovingly cultivated in a small cobbled garden surrounded by brick walls, coal fires and industry. I like to think that gardening was a peaceful escape for him away from the factory floor, woodbines, dust and heat.

A few years ago, I discovered an old photograph of me aged two holding a yellow dahlia with a flower not much smaller than my head! This bloom, I am reliably informed, had been given to me by my grandfather after a hearty Sunday roast during early autumn. The image shows me staring at the flower in awe; I look at the image today and wonder what I was thinking and whether a spark of wonder was being ignited even then.

In later years my grandfather taught me how to grow dahlias, and so my journey started to unfold. He had many a tall story and a fondness for bacon sandwiches, both of which he was happy to share with me. From the age of ten I was gardening with my father, helping him tend an allotment. He frequently worked away from home, so I was responsible for the care of the vegetables and cut flowers.

These were very happy days because the other allotment holders were all older folk who looked after me and shared their passion and knowledge with kindness and generosity. I used to help out the allotment group every other Saturday, working in an old wooden supply shed selling discount gardening supplies and sundries. It was a fabulous learning environment and I enjoyed listening eagerly to their hearty chatter, gardening advice and humour, whilst sat, drinking dark brown tea in-front of a cast iron log burner!

I recall that the shed was located on a hillside and constantly creaked in the wind. The smell of blood, fish and bone mixed with log smoke was intense to say the least, but I loved it. When I catch a whiff of blood, fish and bone today, it is highly evocative, and the smell transports me right back to those moments where I experienced my first sense of belonging in an adult world.

Today I sit writing my introduction to the Arne Maynard Garden Design family. Since those early formative days, I count myself extremely fortunate to have worked in a number of beautiful gardens over the last 35 years. From the early days working as an apprentice for Sheffield Parks Department and horticultural training at Askham Bryan, York; followed by employment at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, RHS Wisley in Surrey and RHS Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire. More recently I spent time working at Fort Belvedere in Berkshire.

Working in these gardens has provided me with some excellent opportunities to gain knowledge in practical horticulture, to train apprentices and volunteers, lecture and advise visitors and fellow gardeners, contribute to outreach projects, garden design and manage teams of of staff in large gardens.

The friendships and experiences that I have gained during my career remind me of those interconnecting tree roots. Every generous encounter, pearl of knowledge and new experience has enriched my gardening awareness and has intensified my sense of wonder over the years.

I am still excited by plants and the swiftness of plant growth, seasonal changes, plant interactions, and how gardens enhance the senses. There is a perceptible ebb and flow in all gardens which you have to respect and encourage to achieve success.

For me, working with Arne at Allt y bela, is a new chapter in my life and fortunately we share much in common. Arne is a passionate  plantsman and he possesses a wonderful awareness of the natural landscape and how gardens can interact in harmony with their natural environment. We have much to share and learn together, particularly with the development of the garden and planting at Allt y bela over the next 12 months and beyond.

My role within Arne Maynard Garden Design is broad, encompassing the care and development of Allt y bela, whilst providing horticultural advice and expertise to Arne's clients, skilled gardening teams and the wider AMGD team. I am also looking forward to providing training to keen amateur gardeners through a series of garden courses at Allt y bela during 2020.

My first impressions of the garden here at Allt y bela are magical. The garden is intimate and tranquil and, together with the medieval farmhouse, it rests at ease within the landscape. Nature encroaches like soft waves on a wild shoreline…..Arne has worked his magic, and I appreciate his awareness, attention to detail and love of plants.

I know that these words may sound whimsical, but this is why gardening inspires me, and why I love it so much. It brings out feelings of contentment and a desire to share with others. We are truly spoilt for choice in the UK, where diverse landscapes and gardens are numerous. In our busy lives we sometimes forget what wonders and delights lie on our doorstep ready to explore.

I already feel a positive connection with Allt y bela and the AMGD team, who all do a fabulous job in supporting Arne. South Wales and Monmouthshire are proving to be a real inspiration, with natural beauty in abundance. I am currently exploring the coastline, valleys, hills and castles with my family.

I am looking forward to working with Arne and his team and we hope to share our passion for gardening with you all in the months ahead.

Happy days!




Words: Dean Peckett, Head of Horticulture at Arne Maynard Garden Design


Photographs: William Collinson, Amber Reglar and Dean Peckett



A fond farewell

I'm sitting on my favourite blog-writing bench at the top end of the kitchen garden looking back down the main path to the cottage garden. It's a good spot because it's tucked up out of the way but it still gives a great view of the garden and the wider landscape. The concept of a protected, private growing space is almost as old as gardening itself and perhaps explains, at least in part, my choice.

This week my feelings are rather conflicted, autumn is a time of change in the garden and this week it is for me personally as well. This is my last week gardening at Allt y bela. It's very hard for me to sum up my experiences here over the last three years; as with any gardening job there have, of course, been some disappointments and a fair share of hard graft but my overriding feeling is one of privilege and gratitude. I've learned so much and gained in confidence over my time here. I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my career in horticulture to work in some extremely beautiful places with some incredibly talented people.

Allt y bela is less of a garden and more of a family and I have come to rely on the good people here a great deal. I will miss those I have worked with even more than the beautiful garden. I'm not going to list everyone who has supported me here because it would be rather tedious for you to read, suffice to say they know who they are and they will always have my deepest gratitude.

I would also like to thank you, for reading and supporting this diary; it's been a real pleasure to write and to have time to reflect on this ever-changing and wonderfully evolving space.

My next adventure is going to be down in west Dorset in the beautiful secluded Combe where Mapperton House resides. It's another incredibly special garden with a strong sense of place within the rolling hills of rural dorset.

How do I sum up my time working with Arne at Allt y bela? I'm not sure I'm entirely equal to it; the garden reflects the man, it is energetic, thoughtful and inspiring with a strong grounding in landscape and history. I think the garden at Allt y bela is one of the great modern gardens, it has beauty, elements of modernity, traditional craftsmanship and a very strong relationship to the house and landscape. I feel in many ways that Arne is leading a modern day arts and crafts revival in the garden, and it's been thrilling to have been a part of it.

Click here for a selection of Steve's favourite shots, taken by Britt Wiloughby Dyer, from the Garden Diary over the years.

Words: Steve Lannin, former Head Gardener, Allt y bela

Photos: Britt Willoughby Dyer

Steve_Lannin_at Allt_y_bela_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer

August at Allt y bela


When I think of August in the garden I envisage long hot days, parched lawns and burnt out flower beds. In these long hot days I will be cutting yew topiary safe in the knowledge the the heat will generally deter further growth. In this vision of August I will be mowing the meadows, the ground baked hard as iron, the grass already dried out. I'm sure that this vision of August has, at least some basis in reality, but in more recent years it seems that August is always a bit of a disappointment. The really joyful late summer weather won't begin until the children, clad for autumn in new jumpers and blazers head back to school, then the sun will shine and the temperatures recover!

Despite a burst of sunshine over the late bank holiday weekend, this August has been particularly disappointing. I heard that the start of the month was the coldest since 1993, I'm not sure it's improved much since! Now, at the end of the month there is a distinct chill in the mornings, early mists linger longer and there's a hint of changing colour in the hedgerows which funnel you down the narrow lane to Allt y bela.

The upside to this cool, damp weather has been that the garden has stayed green, not only that but it's been growing in the same spirit as if it had been May. That has been something of a challenge to me as my August tasks are to mow the meadows and to cut the topiary. The abundant growth has led to some impressive weed growth and lawns which just won't stop growing!

All in all though I'm pretty grateful that the weather hasn't been too scorching (to say the least!) The cottage garden has continued to produce a mass of flowers for cutting, while in the kitchen garden the profusion of produce has been a little overwhelming. As the month draws to a close and the apples begin to colour it feels more like each sunny day we get is a little more precious than the last, and if September was to prove to be a beautiful sunny warm month, well I'll have no complaints!

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt y bela

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

© Arne Maynard Garden Design 2017 - reproduction of content and / or photographs only by request.


A late midsummer play in the garden


Last weekend saw the gardens come to life as well over 150 people came to enjoy some Shakespeare in the garden. We usually host a play in the garden theatre around mid summer when the garden is at a natural high point; the roses are in full bloom and the cottage garden is reaching that first peak of the year as the fresh young growth begins to harden and flowers are abundant. This year the weekend closest to mid summer was just about perfect, with warm sunshine long into the evening, which got me a little worried. Would the weather be as kind to us in late July?

For the last few years the night of the play has always been a blessed moment, where long warm summer evenings and rose fragrance compliment the performance and show off the garden in its best light. That's not always been the case though as one year's Romeo and Juliet performance was met with tempest!

Last week, as a busied myself in the garden, the omens did not look promising; torrential rain was forecast for the day before the play and as the weekend drew nearer rain was forecast for Saturday as well. The garden of course was very grateful for the inch and a half of rain that fell but I must confess to being rather worried about what it would all mean for the grass!

When Saturday came and I was woken to the sound of heavy rain my heart sank and as the day wore on and showers persisted I wondered if anyone would brave the weather at all. But then something rather unexpected and amazing happened; the clouds broke and the sun suddenly shone through, this was about six o clock, an hour before the play was due to begin!

When I arrived the garden was full of cheerful faces, picnic hampers and folding chairs. The HandleBards, our performers for the evening, so named because they travel from show to show on bikes, were set up and ready to go. A Midsummer Night's Dream has rather more parts than the four HandleBards could play, yet through some very clever, and frankly hilarious, devices they put on a performance that will stay with me for a very long time. I had heard good things about their productions but I was not prepared for just how entertaining they would be. The energy, the camaraderie and the physicality of their performance created a show that seemed to defy reason. It was brilliant and I dearly hope that they will be back next year.

The earlier rain meant that when the setting sun shone through the damp garden the effect was so much more dramatic and beautiful than it would have been had the day have been clear. Somehow everything came together beautifully, perhaps with the exception of a brief appearance on stage by a rather scruffy looking man who was plucked from the audience to deliver a few lines. (I had hoped that no photographs were taken, but alas… should be able to spot me - alongside a few other AMGD team members - if you look closely enough.)

Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener, Allt-y-bela

Photographs: Holly Fleming & Jennie Spears