Garden diary

Cottage garden musings

The cottage garden at Allt-y-bela consists of a mixture of roses, fruit and herbaceous planting. In the winter it is dominated by a large domed beech topiary which stands as a sentinel at the end furthest from the house and is reflected by the naked rose domes. The little cobbled paths, made from river stones Arne collected from the stream, form ribbons of blue grey to frame the panels of planting which in summer are so profuse as to hide them entirely. In the centre is an apple tree beautifully trained into a goblet shape whose limbs spiral up crossing each other as they do so.

The cottage garden has undergone a subtle and beautiful change over the last couple of months. Back in June the borders were dominated by roses with Astrantia, Aquilegia, Allium and Geranium playing the supporting roles. The colours were rich and often dark giving the garden an opulent, exuberant feel, somehow reflecting the energy of the period that leads up to midsummer.

A little over six weeks later and the garden has softened, the colours are a little more gentle and the pallet of plants has evolved too. Where the wine red Astrantia 'Claret' and almost black Centurea montana 'Jordy' once reigned, now light pink phlox has emerged raising itself above the foliage of the plants below gently swaying and moving in the warmth of the August afternoon.

The purple red flowers of Origanum laevigatum 'Rosenkuppel' creep through the undergrowth frequently spilling out over the cobbles, while light pink Nepeta grandiflora 'Dawn to Dusk' and Salvia turkistanica light corners with delicate flowers. Digitalis parviflora adds a strong vertical dimension to the borders drawing the eye back up just as the Veronicastrum did before it. Occasional flourishes of Sanguisorba lend offbeat notes to the composition, breaking the neat verticals with their unruly deep red blooms. Most majestic of all though is the beautiful angel's fishing rods, Dierama 'Merlin'. Their strong strappy arching leaves manage to be both architectural and graceful, and with a profusion of bowing flowering stems, each hung with delicate but rich purple papery fishes, I can think of few finer plants.

The cottage garden is really quite a modest space, even by Allt-y-bela standards. Most people who have a garden will have a larger space than this taken up by this type of plant.  What Arne has managed to do within it is really very special. The garden manages to reflect the changing seasons, right throughout the year, through its clever choice of plants. It manages to successfully navigate the transitions without ever showing gaps. The plants are absolutely shoehorned in and marshalled ruthlessly; if something doesn't work hard enough to keep its place then it is replaced, there is little room for sentimentality.

Allt-y-bela, with its modest spaces, is the perfect canvas for Arne to trial his ideas. The ones which work will find their way out into the wider world and those that don't, well they are just an important step along the road to perfection.

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

Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer