31 January 2018
January 2018: A new head gardener
In late November 2017 I stood, discussing the garden with Arne, on the bridge spanning the stream that circles the garden here at Allt y bela. As we talked a kingfisher darted into view, idled for a moment, before disappearing downstream. Witnessing such a rare sight I began to realise the significance of this garden's relationship with the wider landscape and its abundance of wildlife.
I trained as an environmental conservationist, and my interest in cultivated plants and their place in the natural world came as a result of studying 'rewilding' as part of my degree. In response to the loss of wild areas and the over-use of aggressive farming techniques over the past 50 years, including an over-reliance on chemicals to combat pests and diseases, we are now returning to traditional methods of land management to encourage native species to thrive and biodiversity to increase for the benefit of all organisms. Ancient woodland management practices such as coppicing, pollarding and hedge-laying are now being employed to provide and safeguard habitats so that both native and introduced species can thrive.
This interest in understanding how effective land management can assist people to work with the environment has led me to horticulture. I trained at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, developing a keen interest in glasshouse management, before moving to Aberglasney Gardens for a traineeship in Heritage Horticulture. Among other things, this gave me valuable traditional kitchen garden training which I am now employing at Allt y bela.
For many years, the perception of gardeners and garden designers was one of forced precision, promoting the idea that man can impose its will on the environment to achieve perfection. Fortunately, trends in landscape and planting design have in more recent years embraced the idea that garden and landscape design and management should work in conjunction with nature to achieve a more relaxed aesthetic. As gardeners, we are often still striving for perfection, but perhaps now there are a few frayed edges.
Allt y bela offers a unique chance to hone my skills as a gardener while learning about how the formal garden design process can work in an ancient, natural environment. The late autumn start has given me an uninterrupted view of the bones of the garden here, its structure laid bare, showing both its strength and its areas for development. For me winter is perhaps the most important time of year in the garden - it's a period of planning, preparing the earth and sowing seeds that will yield an abundance of blooms and produce later in the year.
I hope to channel my enthusiasm and experience in horticulture into the development of a garden that we can all be proud of and that you will enjoy reading about.
Words: Rhys Griffiths, Head Gardener at Allt y bela
Rhys is pictured on the right with Arne and Thistle in the woodland at Allt y bela.
Photograph © William Collinson