We are getting back to gardens this week after the frivolity of last week’s Honest Scrap Award. This is the first of a new monthly-ish feature on inspirational gardens. I’ve chosen this first one to get the ball rolling, then all subsequent gardens are chosen by the person I’ve interviewed, which should, I hope, make for an interesting journey for us all.
Garden Design Elements
My inaugural Inspirational Garden is Veddw House Garden in Monmouthshire, South Wales. The garden has been created by Anne Wareham and her husband Charles Hawes. Anne is a garden writer for newspapers and magazines. She is also a garden consultant and is involved with ThinkinGardens, for people who want more than gardening from their garden. Charles is a professional photographer and has very kindly allowed me to use his photographs of Veddw House Garden for this article.
I’ve only recently discovered Veddw House Garden (shame on me – I should never have cancelled my Gardens Illustrated subscription!). I’ve been really impressed by the creative and clever layout of the garden. It is obvious how much energy and thought has gone into it. What impresses me most about this garden is its creators; neither Anne or Charles are professionally trained garden designers. They have created this garden from scratch. Anne started it with a spade in her hand. It’s a two-acre garden. That’s quite an undertaking for anyone.
Where Do You Start To Create A Garden Like This?
I asked Anne where and how she got started on this amazing garden. She told me the first thing she did was to clear it. The overgrown trees and shrubs were removed and this enabled Anne to see the garden properly. Most people are too afraid to take things out and totally start again but for Anne this was a necessity not an option.
Having a two-acre garden to develop from scratch is a big challenge and a scary one at that. I was very curious as to how Anne went about transforming her garden, when, in her words, she knew absolutely nothing about creating a garden. She did something that is obvious, yet so few people do it…
You Can Do What Anne Has Done Too
She studied gardens, in depth. Anne went to every garden centre, nursery and open garden she could. She read books, magazines and totally immersed herself in all things garden. She asked a lot of questions. Most people tend to do some of those things but not all. Anne stuck at it until she understood what makes a good garden. It’s not about what plants you use. It comes down to what shapes you create before you add the plants.
A Curious Design Method…
I wanted to know about Anne’s design process. Does she sit down with a sheet of paper and plan it or could she see it in her mind? I was expecting her to say she could just see it all in her mind but that couldn’t be further from it. Anne is like many people, myself included early on in my design career, she can’t visualise how things will look. If you’ve read the blog post I did a while back on visualising your garden, you’ll know that it’s not as important a skill as you would think.
Anne’s design method is born out of her curiosity; she will think of two or three different things and wonder how they would look if she puts them together. So the only way to satisfy her curiosity is to actually go and do it.
The Problem With Focusing On Plants
Anne is passionate about good structure in gardens (and I mean REALLY passionate about it). One of her pet hates is how easily seduced people are by plants. Too much focus on plants and the garden becomes an incoherent mess. As a nation we are plant obsessed and it is all too often to our detriment. Mention your plant collection to Anne at your peril!
An Inexperienced Gardener
Before Veddw, Anne’s experience of gardens was limited to a small London garden and before that a tub of herbs she’d grown from seeds on the flat roof of her flat! So if you were thinking that it’s impossible to create a great garden without a lot of garden experience, you’d be wrong. Anne and Charles started the garden in 1987. They’ve developed it one section at a time. A garden like Veddw doesn’t happen over night, it evolves over time.
Anne’s Top Tips:
If you are starting a new garden, mulch as much as you can to keep the weeds down. Think about structure in your garden and read, read, read everything you can on gardens. You must educate yourself as much as possible. Her last tip is to go with the lie of the land, especially if you have countryside views. It’s important your garden sits well in its surroundings.
Visit This Great Garden
I do hope that if you are ever in South Wales, you will go and see Veddw House Garden for yourself. It’s open to the public on Sunday’s from 2-5pm June-August. And whilst you are visiting you may as well take a look at some other wonderful Welsh gardens. There is a fabulous book available (which features Veddw among others) called Discovering Welsh Gardens by Stephen Anderton, photographs by Charles Hawes.
I’d like to thank Anne for taking the time for the interview, especially as she’s facing a deadline for her new book ‘The Bad-Tempered Gardener’ for Frances Lincoln, which should be available early next year.
If you can get a good understanding of how garden design works, then creating your own fabulous garden is definitely achievable. I hope seeing Charles and Anne’s garden has inspired you to tackle your own garden in a creative and thought provoking way. Gardens can be so much more than just a place to put the shed, you don’t need to be an expert to do it but you do need knowledge.
I’ve certainly been inspired by my conversation with Anne. Veddw House Garden is proof that if you put your mind to it, you can create something amazing with your garden. In fact she’s inspired me to take action to help people do just that. I’ll write more about the idea our conversation sparked in the next blog post…
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