Garden diary

"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!

Dean

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

 

Photographs: William Collinson, Amber Reglar and Dean Peckett

 

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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.

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Bathed in sunshine

 

The sun is as strong at this time of year as it is in late August the radio warned me this morning, barely five minutes after I had scraped the ice from my windscreen. Sure enough by 11 o'clock this morning the sun was warm. This time of year brings the first really warm days of the year and the warmest days we have experienced in five or six months. It is heavenly. Somewhere in the trees above the common a woodpecker is busy drumming away as birds sing all around me.

This morning Hudson the cat was excitedly pursuing a stoat around the kitchen garden. Everywhere the garden is waking up but the contrasts at this time of year can make being outside uncomfortable. I was basking in hot sunshine one day last week and the next I was searching out extra coats as I shivered my way through a bitterly cold and breezy day. It feels to me almost like the growing pains of summer, the change is coming and it's inevitable; it's a great feeling.

The pots of tulips are just beginning to flower and I always find it an anxious time. You really want to know that those combinations, which seemed so exiting in November, really live up to their billing. The light in spring can make a huge difference to the success of a combination. Early indications look promising. We've really tried to improve the pot display this year planting maybe three times as many pots as we did the first year I was here. I was making willow support rings for the pots a couple of weeks ago and it seemed to take me forever, despite the fact that most of the pots already had supports. At the end of the day I counted up the rings I had made and reached 36, which is a fair amount of extras!

The Osmanthus topiary we planted a couple of weeks ago is in full flower now and is looking rather fine. Flowering topiary is something new to me but it looks very at home in the garden here. The Osmanthus outside my toolshed is looking (and smelling) particularly good.

Summer might not be here yet but we've had a sneak preview of it over the last week here at Allt-y-bela and it's been rather lovely.

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.

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A few additions

 

Change is the only constant in life. I feel like I've heard that sentiment expressed in more ways than I can recall. In truth though it has become something of a mantra of mine, reminding me that even the worst situations are transient whilst helping me to enjoy the best moments to their fullest. Working in a garden though, you can hardly fail to appreciate the truth of the matter. Each day, each week, each year, the garden is changing, nature's chaos perverting and adjusting our well considered plans into often wonderful and sometimes frustrating results.

Working in the garden at Allt-y-bela can be incredibly frenetic, energising and perplexing in equal measure. This week has been one of those weeks. It began with preparation for our rose dome building course, my list of worries and things to stress over has become an annual tradition now and I'm learning to stay slightly calmer. Despite some pretty persistent Welsh drizzle in the afternoon contributing to the familiar gardeners plea 'you should have been here yesterday!' the course was great fun and as an army of rose domes were contorted into all manner of shapes and sizes I felt very happy to have been part of the day.

No time to waste however as preparations began the next morning for some new additions to the garden. As I arrived in the lane a very large lorry was waiting and I had more than a suspicion that its contents would be for us.

Luckily for me Arne had arranged his crack team of landscapers to install these massive new plants so I could take part in the really nice bit, the placements and the little tweaks: 'I think it needs to come around 30 degrees clockwise' all very satisfying!

Amongst the new arrivals was a beech tree that Arne has been coveting for more than a decade! Just getting the enormous tree out of the the lorry was a Herculean task, followed by a strange convoy that included the beech tree dangling from a reversing telehandler, the Land Rover and trailer containing a beautiful multi-stemmed Cornus mas dome and a transit flatbed truck with a pair of Osmanthus topiary balls. We must have made an impressive, if a little bizarre, spectacle!

Safely back in the garden the last day and a half have been dominated by the installation of these new plants. Arne and I stood on the drive as he spoke of how this was the last delivery of large plants for Allt-y-bela, before mentioning the 5m tall Magnolia that will be arriving soon!

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

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

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

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The first blooms

 

The garden at Allt-y-bela is beginning to spring to life once more. On the droveway and through the woodland snowdrops abound drifting in vast white carpets across the brown green of the winter landscape. There is something magical and heartening to see swathes of ground suddenly coming to life in these dark weeks. Amongst the throng of single native snowdrops, a few double flowers can be found. You can generally tell the doubles by the broader nature of the flowers, the only way to be sure of course is to get down on your hands and knees and have a good look. The rewards certainly make the muddy knees worthwhile but it is a shame we don't get the chance to appreciate them in a more congenial environment.

Along the sides of the drive towards the field gate is a small wild bed filled with winter snowflakes. Winter aconites are beginning to establish there too. The winter snowflakes look a little like a broader stronger snowdrop, their heads still nod in the cold breeze but they are larger and slightly more showy.

The bulb lawn is beginning to show the first signs of life now too, a few short weeks ago I was looking across the grass at the telltale leaves of iris and crocus that offered so much promise and over the course of the last few days the flowers have been breaking out, first a few crocus, then the very first reticulated iris. Each day, come rain or shine, flowers have been emerging.

One of the frustrations I've found in past years is that I never seem to be able to photograph these spring treasures to really do them justice, then, while crawling around on my hands and knees through the mud it occurred to me that it would be rather lovely to bring these flowers into the house and photograph them properly. Around this time last year Allt-y-bela played host to a Dutch Masters flower arranging course, the resulting pictures were so stunnning I was desperate to have a go at recreating a similar sense of light and dark, fine detail and highlights. These early spring bulbs which posses such breathtaking beauty are perhaps slightly overlooked as we dodge the rain and hurry past against the biting cold. Brought indoors, with time to really look and appreciate them, their elegance shines through.

Once inside with our selection of flowers we decided to break them down into three groups; the crocus, the iris and the snowdrop type flowers. I think we could have very easily spent days placing them around the house to photograph. Allt-y-bela is such at atmospheric house, somehow though it always comes back to the older parts of the house, the medieval dining room with its massive stone fireplace and shining polished oak furniture lend themselves so freely to this style of photography.

The bulbs which are in flower now represent the beginning of the year in the garden at Allt-y-bela, there is so much to come, the thought is almost a little overwhelming. But this week, through the incessant rain and frost, these beautiful plants have emerged bringing with them a sense of positivity and hope for the coming year.

Plant information:

1. Left to right; Crocus subs. biflorus, Crocus tomasinianus, Crocus 'Snow Bunting', Crocus 'Cream Beauty'

2. Crocus 'Prins Claus' & Crocus tomasinianus

3. Crocus 'Snow Bunting'

4. Crocus 'Cream Beauty'

5. Left to right; Leucojum vernum 'Snow Flake, Galanthus 'Flore Pleno', Galanthus nivalis

6. Galanthus nivalis

7. Left to right; Iris reticulata 'Pauline', Iris reticulata 'Gordon', Iris reticulata 'Pixie', Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin', Iris reticulata 'George'

8. Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin'

9. Iris reticulata 'George'

10. Handtie of Iris reticulata 'Pauline', Iris reticulata 'Gordon', Iris reticulata 'Pixie', Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin' & Iris reticulata 'George'

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.

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