Arne's journal

Propagation: Gardeners' Magic

There is something about the spring light that triggers an automatic reaction in a gardener to sow seeds and propagate plants. There have been days this week, when the wind drops, and you can actually feel the warmth of the sun, and know that the soil will be warming up too. Thoughts race forward to the summer and my mind fills with images of plants that I know I need to start sowing soon.

Until now at Allt-y-bela I've had no real space for sowing and raising my own plants, and I've missed the magic of seeing pots of cuttings and trays of young seedlings with all their promise of riches to come. So this year I have set up a couple of cold frames with soil warming cables at their bases, and am awaiting delivery of a small greenhouse. There are plans for a more elaborate greenhouse for the future, (always so many plans!), but for now I can, at last, propagate some of the difficult to get hold of, rarer plants I want to grow and sow seed of things I want to plant out in abundance.

Poised for propagation action, I've invited a friend, and brilliant nursery woman, Marina Christopher, to come to Allt-y-bela and run a propagation workshop for us and a small group of people. She gave a very inspiring short talk on the subject here last year, and we are really looking forward to her returning to give us a full day on the topic. 

What I particularly like about the way Marina talks about raising plants, is that she shares her own experiences with such clarity. Her scientific background and a naturally curious and questioning personality has led her to develop many techniques that are entirely her own, often subtly different from propagation techniques you might find in a book. For me these skills are most definitely best learnt or refreshed directly from an expert, in person, where all the senses can be involved; watching and listening, touching and feeling and having a hands on experience and the chance to question things along the way.

Meanwhile I'm starting to plan which annuals I'll raise for companion planting and cutting flowers in the kitchen garden, and the rarities that I want to ask Marina how I can increase. There are many websites and catalogues full of wonderful choices, but I particularly love the selection from Chiltern Seeds and their adage 'grow something new from seed' is very hard to resist when you look through the exquisite photos, mainly by Sabina Ruber. They have a very broad offering of unusual and tempting plants, many of which I plan to grow at Allt-y-bela. We have a few places left on the workshop with Marina on 31st March, so do get in touch and come along, whether you are set up with a large greenhouse for mass propagation, or like me, you have only a small area of glass, or even windowsills to raise precious plants.

Words: Arne Maynard

Photos: William Collinson and Sabina Ruber (courtesy of Chiltern Seeds)

To find out more about the Plant Propagation workshop on Tuesday 31 March at Allt-y-bela, click here.

For more information about Chiltern Seeds and their wide selection of seeds visit


Scents of arrival

I was thrilled to receive a beautiful handmade Willow Pottery plant pot for Christmas, already slightly weathered, and in no time at all it has found its place on the wall outside my front door.  I am reminded of the first time I arrived at Christopher Lloyd's house, Great Dixter, to see his display of horticultural gems close to the front door. I felt then that it was the perfect welcome for visitors and friends and reflect on this moment as each season passes, getting excited about deciding which floral beauty will take its place in my entrance pots. It feels such a luxury having lovely seasonal pots close to the house. Not only does it create a unique arrival for visitors but it also welcomes you home with colour and, often, a wonderful perfume.

I have now started to gather a collection of pots created by Willow Pottery as I have fallen in love with their style and colour. They feel so Elizabethan and feature that intricate woven work, seen in that period, that allows them to sit perfectly with the house here. In addition they weather beautifully and so very quickly they look right at home.

Willow Pottery, although situated just north of Bath, uses Staffordshire clay. The colour is just right for the period and style here at Allt-y-bela and because they are made in the same way they were by the Victorians, they look and feel very traditional.

This winter I have filled mine with hellebores, bought from my local nursery, which afterwards I will plant into the garden around the streamside. The colours of the flowers are perfect and there are even a couple of blousy double ones giving the display a really sumptuous feel. I am already beginning to ponder what I shall plant it up with next.  I love to fill my pots with seasonal beauties, selecting plants to showcase as treasures welcoming those who arrive at the front door.  For spring, I have my sights on Edgeworthia chrysantha, whose scent is extraordinary and a real treat to have so early in the year. I shall enjoy the heady aroma wafting around outside the entrance to the house, until it is time to plant it out into the garden and once again decide what to fill the pots with for the summer.

Willow Pottery can produce pots to your specific requirements, personalising it with your own pattern and branding should you wish. They are in the process of creating a beautiful glazed pancheon, which was used in the traditional method of collecting and separating milk to make butter. In addition they have some lovely bird nesting pots that look beautiful when hung up for the birds. I would highly recommend a visit to the pottery, which is situated between the M4 and Bath.

Find out more here

Words: Arne Maynard

Photographs: William Collinson and Britt Willoughby Dyer


A new book in the making


Before the sky turned grey, it was cold and sunny for a moment this morning, and the crisp light caught the Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane' on the common, making it glow, ember red at the tips. It's those images that stay with you, and that bring atmosphere into a garden and that's what I hope will be captured in my new book. Today at Allt-y-bela, we are choosing more photos, always an exciting, but tricky task, deciding from hundreds and hundreds of shots which are the 'right' ones.

The book will show twelve of my gardens in detail in the main chapters and more will be seen in a series of sub-chapters, that I'm calling 'essentials' because they focus on aspects of the garden that I just couldn't be without, including 'Kitchen Gardens' and 'Roses'. I want readers to feel immersed in the gardens, to feel that they are real, that they can smell the flowers or the rain on the damp ground. It's a big ask of a photograph printed on paper, but what's so exciting is that as the book is starting to take shape it is actually happening. The book is being published by Merrell and we're very fortunate to be working with their wonderful book designer Nicola Bailey. She comes to the photographs with a fresh eye, and puts them together in a way that suddenly works. The gardens are coming to life on the pages, their stories are being told.

I'm so grateful for these wonderful images, taken mostly by my partner William Collinson and also by Britt Willoughby Dyer, because they have given me the opportunity to capture in print the gardens I have worked on, with my team, over many years. It's a real thrill to see so many of them together as we approach the end of this phase. Over the late spring and the summer there will be checking and balancing of colour and all the tweaks to text and images that must not be missed, and then, in autumn, finally, and what will probably feel quite suddenly, will be the finished printed book! A book, I hope, very much, you will enjoy.

(You can see a photo of the Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane' in the Garden Diary 'New Year Delights' )

Words: Arne Maynard

Photographs: William Collinson


Tulips and Dutch Masters

Whilst Steve has been busy planting the fritillaries, iris and tulips for naturalising in the grass, I have turned my mind to the tulips I plant later, in pots and in borders close to the house. I find it really useful to trial new tulips in the kitchen garden, it gives you a chance to see their true colours and characteristics, before putting them in combinations in borders and pots. If you grow them in rows, it makes them easy to identify, and you can lift them when they die back, and store them, cleaned and dry in named net or paper bags in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place, ready for planting in a new position in the late autumn.

When they are grown in rows, like a crop, I also find it easier to bring myself to cut them for the house.

Last year I grew a collection of rare 'broken' and 'breeder' tulips in the kitchen garden. They were exquisitely beautiful, marbled and feathered, subtle and curious, and I'm keen to add more historic varieties. As cut flowers, in the dark interiors at Allt-y-bela, these gem-like tulips, looked even more like the mysterious and sumptuous ones of Dutch 17th Century still life paintings. There are more details about these tulips in my article in Gardens Illustrated magazine's October issue, and Andrew Montgomery took some wonderful, painterly photographs.

As ever with gardening, plants rarely flower exactly to a timetable, and in order that we could photograph all the tulips at once, for the article, we had to 'preserve' some. The members of the The Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society are adept at this, having to keep their very fine blooms in perfect condition for their show in May.  So we followed the advice very kindly given by the Society's secretary and if you ever want to save some exquisite cut tulips for a special occasion, try this:

Fill a bottle with fresh water and add half a teaspoon of sugar.  Early in the morning, take the prepared bottle to the tulip out in the garden. Make a straight cut, and put the tulip instantly into the bottle, and store it in the fridge. We had too many for the fridge, so once they were safely crated up, they made the trip in the Landrover, to the very chilly cellar at Kristy's house.

This autumn I will replant these rarities alongside my favourite Tulipa 'The Lizard' in the enclosed courtyard by the front door. It is becoming more and more like a cabinet of curiosities and precious finds, with the low clipped balls of box on legs, like velvet cushions, acting as the perfect green foil to the flowering jewels. I can't wait to see these tulips next May. We will celebrate them to the full and I'll take great pleasure again in cutting a few for the house.

To find out about their annual show, have a look at The Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society website: They grow the finest varieties of flamed and feathered tulips, and the ones on show are of the most amazing clarity and form.

Having flowers in the house is such an essential part of Allt-y-bela, that I thought we'd delve a bit deeper into the world of the Dutch Masters, for more inspiration. I've invited The Garden Gate Flower Company to join me in giving a floral workshop in April 2015. For more details have a look at our courses for next year.

Photographs by Britt Willoughby Dyer


Untitled: a poem about Allt-y-bela


Written on Saturday 19 July 2014 as a collective poem by those attending the Open Ground creative writing course.


Chaos leans its back against man's perfection and waits.

The air is drying out, wrung out from the night.

Poke out, poke in darting black tongues feed.

Rough-hewn pavers marking patterns of movement long since obliterated.


Cock of the walk, trailing two wives, he gaudy and strutting, they subtle and delicate, quietly pecking.

The cockerel searches saturated grass, calls with gentle croaks his hens to the feast of slugs and worms.

Pecking, bobbing, strutting ceremonial procession led by the golden feet of grand master cockerel.

Silky-spun lacy hammocks of spiders' webs, sandwiched as an artwork between the window's glass and closed shutter.


Espaliered pears, arms outstretched but no partridges in sight

Carved ground the garden's soft underbelly exposed. Vulnerable and bold.

The hollyhock, pert triumph in cobbles.

Two beech bushes the round one open mouthed and his smug taller companion.

The rinds of hay rattle, in the thick burnt, yellow grass.

Turning, the shapes collide and jostle with excitement, around openings and routes around the garden.


As you turn the corner, the gentle whoosh of the stream changes key, to that of a bath filling very slowly.

Flow stone, slab steps, down to the stream.

Slow flowing bubbles on the brown, churned water,

Above the slow moving mud slung stream.

Un-channelled, water follows its own thoughts, aimless, gentle, a lesser being.


The muted but distinctive colours, nothing garish here.


For more information about Open Ground visit the website here