24 November 2014
The bones are laid bare
I have been at Allt-y-bela for five months now and each month has brought a new set of surprises. The garden flowered prolifically all summer and in the kitchen garden plants grew at an astounding rate. As the summer slowly turned to autumn the light has changed and the plants have slowed down, the whole frenetic pace of life here has been winding down and the garden is somehow feeling more intimate. The river keeps up a constant murmuring conversation making its presence known, and the leaves have been turning from green to all shades of reds, oranges and yellows, shining like gold in the autumn sunlight.
The process that gardens undergo during autumn is nearly at an end now. The garden here is finally starting to look tidy and a little more under control as its bones are stripped and laid bare.
The first time I saw the gardens at Allt-y-bela I was struck by their unusual strength of structure, that and the care that has been taken in choosing materials and refining details. The use of native yew and beech in the topiary as well as box, (which might as well be native for its ubiquitous presence in British gardens), helps the garden to settle effortlessly into its timeless pastoral landscape.
A journalist recently noted that the garden had a slightly 'otherworldly' nature, like something out of a fairy tale, and I thought that she summed up the beguiling quality of the garden perfectly. Although its individual elements are fairly commonplace, it's the composition that sets this garden apart.
All summer long the beech topiary has provided height and structure and as a broadleaf it's slightly less tight and formal than the yew and the box. Over recent weeks the beech trees have undergone a dramatic transformation as the leaves have gradually changed colour. These sober, slightly austere, trees have suddenly become the stars of the garden, their golden brown leaves catching the low, yet still warm, November sunshine. They are being transformed into beacons of rich golden light punctuating the garden and lifting it while reflecting the warm rich orange of the house.
I have been especially impressed at the way the elements in the garden have not only worked during one season, but how their roles have changed as the seasons progress and how each has a part to play throughout the year. The garden has been carefully constructed to get the most out of a restricted palette; I'm looking forward to seeing how the elements work with each other through the winter and into the spring.
Words: Steve Lannin
Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer