Arne's journal

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


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.