14 September 2015
Creating a sense of place
One of the things I love about Arne's gardens is that they all
exude a sense of belonging to their landscape. Whether modern or
traditional, English, European or American there is a sensitivity
and depth to the design which allows it to sit comfortably within
its surroundings. Having worked with Arne for a little while now I
have picked up breadcrumbs of wisdom about how this might be
achieved but when I was offered the chance to sit in on Arne's
three day course on creating gardens with a sense of place, I
naturally jumped at the chance!
I won't try to condense three days of learning into a few short
paragraphs because it would be utterly impossible. What I was
struck by though is the extent to which Arne routinely goes to
understand the landscape, the clients and the site in order to
achieve a successful garden. It goes way beyond making sure that
the materiality of the garden is right and that the history is
respected. Arne studies his clients and their home; motifs and
patterns which occur within the historic fabric of the house may
well end up being used as inspiration for garden elements. A
treasured possession, a family relic, a much loved painting may be
the inspiration for a border's colour scheme. The end result is
personal to the client, to the house and to the wider
Arne creates gardens that are uniquely personal to his clients.
To emphasize just how important this is to a successful garden
design, he took us to two very different homes; one where a garden
has been created and one where the delicate nature of the site,
which is epitomised by the house itself, makes creating a garden
Our first stop was Llowes Court near Hay on Wye. At first glance
everything is much as you might expect; it is a lovely Welsh manor
house painted in saffron yellow with well tended barns and a
meadow. But something totally unexpected lurks just below the
surface of this garden. The first clue was meeting Sue, Llowes
Court's rather magnificent owner and creator of the gardens there.
She is charming and direct with a glint in her eye that at once
leaves you in little doubt that you are in for a treat.
"Where do you want to go first?" she asks Arne, "The mineral
pavilion? The birds nest? The Grotto?" Her invitation is like a
grandmother offering you sweets when your mother's back is turned.
We looked at each other and grinned and leaving our expectations at
the gate we happily fall in behind her. I don't really want to
describe the garden to you; it's one that needs to be experienced.
It is magical though, it is like being transported back to
childhood. It's fun, it's confusing, it's totally beguiling but
there is an undercurrent of wisdom to it, it's not at all silly nor
throw away. The design is considered, modulated and worldly. It is
masterful, fearless and energetic. The garden is a reflection of
Sue herself and I can't think of a higher compliment for it.
Our second stop was Ciliau, a Welsh farmhouse perched high in
the Brecon beacons. On arriving at its gate you drive up a steep
and rutted track and are greeted by the back side of some very
utilitarian looking tin roofed barns. Pallets of roof tiles and
pieces of architectural stone lay stroon about and my first
impression was of having arrived at an abandoned farm. On closer
inspection though you notice that the gate posts are rough hewn
from great gnarled tree trunks and that there are some signs of
Nothing quite prepared me for what I found when I rounded the
corner into the courtyard of the farm itself. It struck me as
something that had been carefully arranged for a painting or
perhaps a film set for a period drama. Three wild looking horses,
positioned centrally in the yard, looked languidly across at us
while a pair of geese eyed us suspiciously from the doorstep. The
old house looked in just the correct shade of decay and an old
Victorian table sat abandoned in the corner. In places the bedrock
jutted straight out of the ground and the land rose slightly
towards the house, which lay at just the right distance to allow
you to properly drink in the scene. The word bucolic was probably
coined for Ciliau.
The house's current tenant is Roger Capps, a renowned master
builder, who quietly takes us through the history of the house,
most of which I miss as first the cat, and then the horses, seemed
to take an unnatural interest in me, first sniffing, then nibbling
at my hair. From what I gathered though the house was given its
last major tart up in 1590, it has miraculously survived major
development ever since. It still has no heating and no bathroom in
the house so Roger has built a wonderful bathhouse in the garden.
It gets so cold in the winter that Roger has been known to find his
house guests asleep on the heated bathhouse floor in the morning.
It's a hard life living at Ciliau, which is the only property in
the UK to be designated a SSI due to its colony of lesser horseshoe
bats that share the house. Roger is a great custodian for Ciliau;
he has spent a lifetime working on some of our most treasured
buildings. The house is rich with wall paintings and layers of
colour. History drips off the very walls. It is beautiful and
fragile and in better hands than it could wish for.
I think what I learned most from the course is perhaps what I
have learned most from gardening; there are no shortcuts. If you
want a garden to be right then you have to be prepared to really
work. Gardens reflect people and their interactions with the
landscape and both have to work together to create something which
lasts. Arne's great skill is at least partly his sensitivity, and
then there is his creativity and the ability to bring the elements
together. In many ways though the creation or reinvention of a
garden is just the beginning of a long-term relationship.
Words and photographs: Steve Lannin
Arne runs a series of garden courses from his home
in Monmouthshire each year.
Arne's new book, The Gardens of Arne
Maynard, is available to
purchase now. Buy signed copies directly from us here or visit your local