Garden diary

A gardener's journey

 

I journey to work each day on my bicycle. It is only a short twenty-minute ride from our home which is located in Usk, a small community town in Monmouthshire. (By the way, I'm a road cyclist, so some Lycra is worn, apologies!)

I tend to extend my journey by doing a couple of laps around the town and along the road next to the river. The last few mornings have been fresh to say the least, so I am thankful of a few layers to keep out the chill.

Notable features on my route include a prison with the most incredible Wisteria growing on the exterior walls.; a beautiful arched stone bridge which spans the picturesque river Usk; a Norman castle which overlooks the town and river meadows beyond.

I can see the castle walls from our bedroom window each morning, along with three mature magnolia trees which are currently in full flower. There is also a rather lovely topiary figure, standing sentinel on the castle wall, which has one raised arm, normally aglow in the early morning sunshine. I wake most mornings full of energy and looking forward to the day ahead. During my working career I have tended to start early, which I never minded because those early hours from sunrise onwards can be magical.

When I think back over the years, gardening and cycling have been constants throughout my life. From those early days gardening with my father on his allotment. And the many cycling adventures that I enjoyed with my friends, during long summers exploring the seven hills of Sheffield and glorious Derbyshire. Of course, these were ancient times, before the invention of road safety and intergalactic communication! We travelled without a care in the world, carrying a sandwich and a drink to keep us from starvation, no money, riding without safety helmets and free from mobile phones.

There was one job I had where I worked on a private estate located at Elstead in Surrey. At the time we were living in Cranleigh, which was a 30-mile round trip each day. I recall arriving for the interview on my bicycle. After the interview the owner offered me the job commenting that anybody prepared to cycle that distance for a job, deserved an opportunity. I worked there for just over a year before securing a job working at RHS Wisley

I have always enjoyed an intimate connection with nature, and I have taken comfort that whatever happens, life will endure and will always find a way to inspire and surprise you. During these very challenging times, gardening is a safe haven for many. I appreciate that some readers may not have access to an open space or a garden at the moment and with this in mind, I would like to share Allt y bela with you, starting with my journey to work each morning.

Please be assured that I am totally isolated throughout my journey and do not encounter any other individuals. In fact, all flora and fauna are completely oblivious to our human plight. It makes you reflect on what is truly important during our everyday comings and goings, and the fundamental changes we will experience during the months ahead.

The road to Allt y bela is a single, uneven trackway, surrounded by mixed native hedging, fields and trees. This provides a feeling of enclosure and mystery as you approach. The final section of trackway heads in an easterly direction towards the early morning sunrise.

The hedgerow is currently in flower, with delicate flowers of wild plum, and there are signs of the first shoots of life developing on hawthorn and hazel. The lightest of soft green, like a delicate mist cast from a wand. Most mornings I usually hear the call of a Kestrel on patrol looking for an early breakfast….lucky rodents.

A small stream meanders to the left of the trackway providing a reminder that water brings life. Indeed, during the last couple of weeks, the banks of the stream have been carpeted with wood anemones and celandine, long established and undisturbed. These delicate beauties blanket the margins of the stream leading out into the dappled shade and the fields beyond. If you look beyond the fields and the grazing sheep and lambs, and within the surrounding woodlands, the anemones continue, an ocean of white as far as the eye can see. The woodland canopy is still bare in late March, allowing just the right amount of sunlight to sustain the growth of the anemones, which produce this small wonder of nature.

There is something magical about these few fleeting moments of the day where I ride along in peace, whilst enjoying the sights and sounds around me. I suspect that during the day to day rush of life we do not always appreciate our sensory abilities. I try to take some time out of each day to explore my senses, by closing my eyes for a few moments and just listening to the sounds of nature. The bird song at Allt y bela is so energetic and vibrant, it washes over you like an elixir of life.

I am also making the most of the spring fragrance and blooms with some deep breathing exercises. Plants are particularly showy at this time of year, attracting insects and birds to sample their nectar. Standing in the garden you can feel the vibrance of spring all around you. Funnily enough, Arne and I were exploring the garden together recently and enjoying the fragrance of a viburnum located behind the vegetable garden. Arne commented that it reminded him of a lovely smell you encounter when you visit an old stately home, a fragrance evocative of wood wax and old England! This evoked the same sensory memory for me, having worked many years ago at Chatsworth House. I recall going into the house occasionally to assist the Head Gardener. We were always greeted by the housekeeper either polishing floors or cleaning silver! I wonder how many other sensory memories we all share, but never mention to others.

Of course, Arne and I are taking the best precautions during the working day to maintain a safe distance at all times. We are very fortunate in that we can both work independently in the garden and in the fresh air and away from others.

My brief journey to work is not all plain sailing though. I have to dodge the odd pothole, squirrel and pheasant, all seem to take great delight in either running or flying out in front of me. I swear they wait for my arrival each morning, judging by the frequency of my encounters with them.

For those that do not know, Allt y bela nestles in an isolated valley surrounded by hills, open field and trees, so the final approach is slightly undulating. On arrival, I crest a small rise and I pass through the softly corroded metal gates of the house and garden and my day of gardening begins…..

Whatever the weather, Allt y bela gleams…rendered in a vibrant shade of rusty ochre. The contrast with the landscape is striking, yet totally in harmony with the planting and structural topiary. Shadows from larger trees, backlit by the sun, cast playfully across the building, providing both depth and texture. Over recent weeks Allt y bela has come to life with elegance and grace.

The magnolias have been particularly good this year providing an abundance of flower. A frost did catch one specimen in mid-March, but we still had a good few days where the blooms were at their best. Over the period of a few days, I enjoyed observing the large downy magnolia buds bursting open, to reveal opulent flower petals. The flowers themselves look translucent with heavy dew and back lit by early morning sunlight. Observing these subtle changes is a real joy, and I would encourage us all to take time to enjoy the moments that nature shares with us.

The garden that Arne has created at Allt y bela is truly beautiful. Arne possesses a remarkable awareness regarding planting, subtle texture, colour and how these intertwine with the landscape. It is both playful and elegant.

A recognisably striking feature of the garden is the topiary. I particularly like the subtle changes in tone and texture of the Fagus (beech) that occurs through winter and into spring. Through sunshine and cloud, frost and rain, the topiary provides structure and continuity with the landscape beyond. The leaves of Fagus are a rich copper in early winter and remain abundant on the plant, very much like a winter cloak. By the time spring arrives the leaves have endured the elements and have bleached and faded to soft taupe. They are now starting to fall off the plants as though autumn has returned once again, if briefly. This is to make way for the emergence of soft green foliage which is most welcome and refreshing to behold after their winter dormancy.

The spring meadows have been in flower over the last few weeks filled with iris, crocus, narcissus, cowslips and more recently delicate tulips. Arne and I took great pleasure  exploring the meadows together and counting the colonies of wild orchids that have started to emerge. Arne pointed out to me a parent orchid that had self-seeded. You could see a distinct curve of young orchids due to natural seed dispersal and growth.

A walk through the woodland and along the driveway banks reveals a wealth of growth and flowers from colonies of white and purple fritillaries, narcissus, cowslips and Cammasia.

I have been busy in the vegetable garden over the last few days constructing sweet pea and runner bean supports. I have made these out of coppiced hazel stems which I have been able to cut from two strong hazel stools located next to the stream. It's a simple structure to construct, using eight hazel stems to form a 60cm diameter circle. I use a small steel bar to create a hole, and then push each hazel stem into the soil 12cm deep. If you angle the hazel stems away from the centre, they can then be bent and tied together at the top to form a wigwam. Smaller branches of hazel twigs can then be inserted within the wigwam to provide finer twiggy support for the plants.

The weather has been particularly kind after a very wet winter. With the dry weather and warm sunshine, I have been able to plant out the sweet peas, chitted potatoes, shallots, beet, sea kale, and sow carrots, radish and broad beans. When you look out from the vegetable garden you can see the spring meadow beyond. We planted a collection of young plug plants in late autumn and these appear to be thriving.

The established cowslips on the driveway bank are particularly beautiful growing amongst moss, their soft yellow flowers greet me each morning as I come through the gate. If it were possible to be miniaturised, I would imagine a walk through those mossy cowslips and spring bulbs would be incredible. What a journey that would be…….

Wherever your journey leads over the next few weeks, please stay safe. Happier days will come, days when we can all enjoy gardening and the freedom of nature's beauty once again.

Best Wishes, Dean

=================

Words: Dean Peckett

Photographs and films: Dean Peckett and Arne Maynard

For more spring inspiration from Allt y bela with Arne and Dean, follow Arne Maynard Garden Design on Instagram. Arne is giving a daily walking tour of a different part of the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

01_wild_plum_blossom_©Dean_Peckett02_wood_anemones_©Dean_Peckett04_viburnum_©Arne_Maynard_IMG_133105_AYB_entrance_©Arne_Maynard_IMG_133106_topiary_©Dean_Peckett07_Allt_y_bela_©Dean_Peckett07_magnolia_©Dean_Peckett08_kitchen-garden_©Dean_Peckett09_orchids_©Arne_Maynard

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.

01_Bathed_in_sunshine_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N724002_Bathed_in_sunshine_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N724703_Bathed_in_sunshine_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N725104_Bathed_in_sunshine_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N725605_Bathed_in_sunshine_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N726206_Bathed_in_sunshine_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N727707_Bathed_in_sunshine_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N727908_Bathed_in_sunshine_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N727009_Bathed_in_sunshine_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N728210_Bathed_in_sunshine_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N7249

The first day of Spring

 

Spring is coming now, you can feel it in the warmth of the sun and hear it in the birdsong. I'm never really conscious as to how and when the change begins every year and yet you feel it, you sense the change.

Everywhere in the garden that change is taking place, seeming to gather pace every day, sycamore seeds are germinating in the rich fertile ground of the kitchen garden and also in the thin grass of the amphitheatre. The first leaves are beginning to break on the hazels on the drove, delicate windflower on the lane, and everywhere there are fresh green and purple shoots emerging from the earth.

It's a hopeful time of year and every warm day leaves you more convinced that winter and the cold are finally banished for a few short months at least. Yet, the weather can change very quickly, and the warmth disappears momentarily reminding you that it is still only March after all.

The garden at Allt-y-bela is cleverly designed; at first the floral focus of the garden is kept very close to the house, the bulb meadow and courtyard are the initial focus with the snowdrops on the drove and blossom acting more as an eye catcher, drawing the view out. Now however, with the narcissus blooming, the focus is drawn out further and it will stay this way until the tulips and then the cottage garden bring you back into the garden's core.

Today I went out to gather flowers for the house. The Narcissus lobularis are just reaching their peak before they inevitably begin to fall away and with the fresh green of the new hazel leaves and the acid green of the Euphorbia, I soon had a jug of flowers that felt like spring. Oxslips, a single stem of hellebore and water marigolds completed the arrangement. In a way though I felt I was missing an important part of the garden, the first few snake's head fritillaries are in flower  and whilst it felt a very hard decision to sacrifice any for a small arrangement it also felt remiss of me to not include this beautiful spring wonder of a flower. In the end it felt right to arrange it simply with some anemone and narcissus as a simple bedside jar.

I've found the practice of picking flowers really very helpful in understanding the changes which take place on an almost daily basis at Allt-y-bela. When you are looking for the best flowers to pick you notice how the quality and quantity changes over the weeks. Actively looking for flowers has connected me with the garden in a slightly different way to that which I am used to.

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. 

01_First_day_of_Spring_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N721702_First_day_of_Spring_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N722003_First_day_of_Spring_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N722104_First_day_of_Spring_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N723305_First_day_of_Spring_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N723606_First_day_of_Spring_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N723807_First_day_of_Spring_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N723208_First_day_of_Spring_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N723009_First_day_of_Spring_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N722910_First_day_of_Spring_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N7226

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.

01_The_first_blooms_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N667002_The_first_blooms_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N667103_The_first_blooms_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N667204_The_first_blooms_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N667305_The_first_blooms_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N667406_The_first_blooms_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N667707_The_first_blooms_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N667808_The_first_blooms_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N667909_The_first_blooms_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N668010_The_first_blooms_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer_P510_N6681

Burying treasure

 

As regular readers will no doubt be aware I am something of a fan of bulbs, or perhaps more specifically the flowering display produced by bulbs. Bulbs give you a huge amount of value for your time and monetary investment, especially the bulbs we use to naturalise and leave in the ground year round.

Last week we set about changing over our main containers from their summer clothes to their winter ones. There are few jobs in the garden which speak more clearly about the changes about to take place than the planting of bulbs in the autumn, it almost feels like an acknowledgment that the coming months are going to be very different than those which have passed but that there is a belief that when the sun returns these little packets of energy will burst into life and celebrate with floral fireworks!

We've worked our containers very hard this summer and they have mostly responded by giving us extremely large and abundant growth. A few pots however have become waterlogged and fetid. Over time old roots and debris have built up in the base of the pots and although we often replace the top soil we haven't been down to the depths and changed everything for quite some time. I won't bore you with the details of my emptying the pots, but one thing which was apparent was the care taken when mixing the previous compost and I was determined to do just as good a mix to replace it.

There are lots of things to think about when choosing a compost for containers, chief among them being creating a suitable environment for whatever you intend to plant. As our pots will have a wide range of different plants I set out to make a general mix which should provide a good mixture of qualities. We've made some particularly good compost this year and this along with some of our leaf mould became key ingredients. I also added a little grit, top soil and John Innes, mixing it all on a board until I felt happy with its consistency. I might also have checked with the boss, just to be on the safe side!

Over the last year we have started to build up and layer our seasonal planter display, hopefully giving a more sophisticated appearance and next spring will be no exception, in fact our plans are to have a more complex and coherent display than ever before. Our pots have a greater sense of sophistication too, we have picked a palette of plants and bulbs and varied the mix throughout the pots so that while they will all have the same threads through them, the pattern will alter.

The bulb choice is also a little different: this year we have gone for viridiflora tulips which have a flash of green up the petals in whites and apricot, and wallflowers in creamy white. I'm really excited to see the results. We've spent more time this year both in the planning and in the preparation of our spring display and there really is nothing like good preparation to give you the feeling of anticipation!

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

Photos: Britt Willoughby Dyer

01_P510_N6249_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer02_P510_N6251_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer03_P510_N6253_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer04_P510_N6254_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer06_P510_N6256_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer06_P510_N6304_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer07_P510_N6306_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer08_P510_N6312_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer09_P510_N6323_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer10_P510_N6327_©Britt_Willoughby_Dyer