Arne's journal

Sweet peas and redcurrants

The long summer days are now upon us. Here at Allt-y-bela the swallows and swifts are darting through and chattering around us feasting on the bountiful supply of insects and occasionally resting on the beam in the studio! The butterflies are wafting around seeking suitable succulent brassicas to lay their eggs and the buzzards are soaring high on the therms above.  It is just breathing with life and regeneration and the incredible microclimate here has encouraged blooms and foliage to put on their best show.

The garden is looking magical; the kitchen garden is filling the house larder full of delicious salad leaves, tomatoes, potatoes and now vegetables such as peas, fine beans and mangetout.  The mixture of sunshine and rain has been perfect for bringing on cabbages and cavelo nero, which look magnificent. Sweet peas are in abundance and filling the warm air with their heavenly scent, each day we try to harvest as many as possible to keep them growing continuously throughout the summer. Alongside these, the knot garden is brimming with dahlias, phlox, campanulas, roses, veronicastrum and annuals such as cosmos. A patchwork of beautiful colours including pale lilac, rich burgundy, soft dusty pink, silvers and the palest of blues, all combined in such a way that you begin to drift into a dreamy gaze.

Some of the red currants were harvested today, their beautiful shiny little globes of tartness were popped straight into the freezer, destined to become redcurrant jelly at a later date.  The next batch are still being protected from the birds by netting, we're hoping the blackbird doesn't find a way in before they ripen up.

At the entrance to the house, the beautiful gladioli I was given by friends in America has given us a stunning show. She is gradually fading now and giving way to Agapanthus Windsor Grey, whose subtle and soft grey colour is filling big shoes admirably.

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer

The Merry Wives of Windsor

It had been difficult to imagine a performance at Allt-y-bela without pouring rain; but this year the weather was perfect. The sun warmed the new grass-banks of the garden theatre, and lingered until the final acts when the light from flares took over, and the dusk fell. For the first time, the stage was set with a back drop of the tall barn, fronted, almost moated, by the newly walled stream and the actors seemed to revel in it. Playing on the trepidation of the audience with unlikely, audacious leaps across the flowing water below.

The comedy of the play was brought out to the full by the company of players from the Living Willow Theatre. The frustrations of the balaclava clad Brooke (a disguised Ford) were a particular highlight, as was the querulous singing of the Welsh cleric, Sir Hugh Evans. The oh-so-flawed but magnificent Falstaff filled the stage, (and the laundry basket), too much of a presence to be brought very low by his final horned humiliation, by those posing as fairies.

A new theatre has been sworn in, and proved itself an inspiring setting. We look forward greatly to what happens next, and thank all that took part this year, for such a very, merry beginning.

For information about Shakespeare Link at the Living Willow Theatre visit their website here.

The stage is set...

What excitement there is when an idea becomes a reality. The tools have finally been put down, after many weeks of work. The rugged high bank and stream at Allt-y-bela have been completely transformed by a dedicated and specialist team of skilled craftsmen. Having constantly to battle with the elements and trudge through endless mud, seems only to have made them more determined to do the finest of work, they have been truly exceptional.

The stream, once only an underling, feels like a new 'player' in the garden; the fast flowing, chatty, channel of water, now flanked from start to finish by simple and beautifully crafted dry stone walls, leads the eye through dappled light as it rushes around the granary. Passing in front of a stone and grass banked audience, it gathers pace as it flows out and through into the pool beyond the bridge. The banks of the new 'Garden Theatre' are beautifully curved and gently cut into the hillside, and in contrast to the pace of the water, they create a still space to sit, from where your eye can roam the landscape around Allt-y-Bela. The flow of land has changed, the buildings sit more comfortably,  and it feels now as if the house is truly encircled by soft emerald green. 

The stage is set and the acoustics are wonderful, perfect for our very first play in this 'Garden Theatre'. I am delighted to invite you to come and join us, in this new setting,  to watch the marvellous actors and actresses of the Willow Theatre Company who will provide an evening of great entertainment with their performance of 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' on the 21st June.

You can find out more and book tickets here.

A March day in the garden

March is a time of preparation for gardeners, and for our first garden course of 2014 we focused on getting the garden ready for the full blown show that should play out over the coming year.

Imagining ourselves to be in the garden in June we filled our minds with roses, and perennials, with swaying meadows and full vegetable beds, and we prepared. Ian showed us how to coppice hazel, while Jacky and I made wonderful domes for the roses to be trained on, runner bean arches that add structure to the kitchen garden and broad bean supports in many patterns which not only perform their supporting role, but add another layer of decoration to the garden.

We looked at planting combinations and teasing the herbaceous border into shape, by editing and adding and dividing plants, and allowing some of those plants to leap out into the meadows around. My 'liberation borders' and meadows took in new arrivals, and we all joined in, setting out great swathes in the upper meadow, of Centaurea 'Jordy' and 'Carnea', Achillea 'Summer Wine', Lychnis flos-culculi (Ragged Robin), Persicaria bistorta 'Superba' and Trollius cultorum 'Lemon Queen'

We can't wait to see it all in flower!

The humble hellebore

Sitting quietly amongst the current chaos of amphitheatre earthworks, tucked in alongside the stream and under the dappled light of the trees, are some beautiful highlights of spring colour.


Slender elegant stems with beautifully heavy petalled heads sway in the breeze like small clusters of nodding bells. Their full beauty can only be appreciated when up close and personal, tipping their heads to see their stunning uniquely marked faces; some speckled and some as dark as chocolate.

One of my favourites is a soft dirty pink with wonderful fluted skirts, much like a huddle of ballerinas. The varieties vary and because many are self-sown it is impossible to identify each one, but some of them would have seeded from a Harvington hybrid.  Here are just a few images taken from the grassy banks at Allt-y-Bela. 

I love to use these as cut flowers around the house, however they are a little tricky to condition. For longevity I would recommend cutting the stems under water (this avoids air locks), immersing them in lukewarm water and leaving overnight still immersed, re-cutting them under water in the morning.  This should keep them firm and upright, ready to use in a vase or jug.

Photos are by Britt.