5 September 2016
When I was about six my parents moved to a house which to me
seemed to have an enormous garden. Down at the bottom of that
garden, beyond a rather tumbledown fence and hedge, lay a steep
drop down to a narrow brook, which ran unimpeded for about a
quarter of a mile. Much of my childhood was spend in the garden
with its various garden rooms and that magical little kingdom
beyond the fence, collecting devils' toenails from the shallow
stream and looking for 'treasure' amongst the plants and trees. It
wasn't until the other day, when while dead-heading dahlias in the
cottage garden I discovered one of the Nigella I'd grown
in flower, that I realised just how little I had changed in those
Gardening gives you a great opportunity to admire nature going about her business on a level that very few other professions allow. Tiny insignificant flowers, like those of hazel in early spring, give you pause; as does the beauty of a spider's web bejewelled with dew on a chilly autumn morning, and all the time, while you go about your tasks, you are drawn to treasures all around you.
Allt-y-bela affords so many treasures that you could probably devote a book to the subject. The wild welsh countryside around the garden often interacts with the more orderly state of things within the garden boundaries to create a vibrancy that lies at the heart of the garden.
The Nigella that first caught my eye is not one that has thrived this year. The seed came from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and is called Nigella 'Delft Blue'. It has a very unusual, almost transparent, quality to the petals and a washed out graded colour radiating out from the centre. It's like no Nigella I've ever seen before and I'd certainly like to give it another try next year. Down at a similar level was the seed head of a scabious with glassy discs forming a spherical drumstick head, staggeringly beautiful when viewed up close, but very easy to miss amongst the floral riot of the cottage garden.
The rain brings another opportunity to admire plants and flowers in a different way. While others may hurry away looking for cover, I would advise a good coat and a more stoic approach, the payoff is well worth the discomfort. There are those plants which we all know look great in the rain but once you start looking around you find that jewel-like raindrops appear as molten tin on Cercis canadensis or Baptisia, while the rain freshens the second flush of roses in the garden at this time of year.
I feel incredibly fortunate to still be able to indulge my childhood passion for finding treasure; it's amazing how little that passion has moved on. I still like to spend my time amongst the plants and the trees admiring bugs and flowers and although I like to think that my taste has matured and refined over the years, the basic drive to discover hasn't.
Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela
Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer