I have visited a lot of gardens over the years, and although I've enjoyed my visits I have found many of the gardens I've visited to be somewhat formulaic; long borders billowing with perennials, the feature tree placed just right to frame the house, well proportioned expanses of lawn... it's all lovely but very much variations on the same theme. When the opportunity came to see somewhere different I jumped at it, ready to be wowed by a different approach.
I'm aware of the Thinking Gardens movement through its website. The manifesto of this group states that it wants to “...reinstate gardens as a stimulus to pleasurable and productive debate and to foster gardens that offer deeper artistic expression”- well a visit to the garden of the movement's founder, Ann Wareham, was guaranteed to broaden my horizons and open my eyes to new possibilities, so time to visit.
The Veddw is a surprisingly small garden set on the edge of woodland on a beautiful hillside in Monmouthshire, with fabulous views on the hot and sunny day I visited. The garden is unashamedly not a plantsman's garden (in fact Ann Wareham reels against such people in her article for The Telegraph), but what strikes you first is how lush and green it all is. The Veddw is known for its iconic wavy hedges, and it is these that greet you when you first arrive- I was absolutely enamoured with them!
Clever use of copper and green beech to add variations in the tone of the hedge, the way the waves fitted with each other to give the effect of three dimensional hills in a wide landscape... magnificent! Best of all this part of the garden packs a lot of interest and green sculpture into a small space; I saw inspiration for other spaces, not too big, where similar bold ideas could be tried out. The hedges themselves enclose a series of small spaces, within each of which is a different design and idea.
Other parts of the garden are more traditional in their feel, but still nonetheless designed with proportions and form first in mind. The wild flower meadow dotted with orchids and bisected by a mown path flanked with large standard trees, a sunny spot centred by a bird bath where Chamaenerion angustifolium 'Album' (the white flowered 'rosebay willowherb') is allowed to grow to majestic proportions instead of being cramped and confined, a semicircular bed planted with only steely-blue Leymus... all very nice.
Or it would be. Walking around The Veddw I felt something was amiss. Something just wasn't right. The pockets of plants were nice enough, and to be honest I didn't really care that plants weren't labelled because I would know plants that could create 'The Veddw effect' if needed... no, something wasn't right.
This garden is not a manicured plot, nature is allowed to mingle with the cultivated plants to create a soft and pleasant feeling of the garden being in touch with its surroundings. The difficulty with this is that the 'natural look' has to be carefully maintained (ironically) to make sure that nature doesn't get the upper hand. I felt that in some parts of the garden nature was starting to take over, and that three foot willow saplings and other big chunky native plants were in danger of tipping the balance away from The Veddw and more towards Welsh hillside wilderness. Granted, we've just had a mild and wet winter which has allowed weeds free reign in gardens, but by June I would have expected the garden to have retaken its territory from the invaders.
Some of the planting was looking decidedly threadbare. I can't imagine the soil at The Veddw is all that forgiving (nor the soggy South Wales climate) but areas of the garden were looking unloved. Now Ann Wareham makes it plain to anyone who asks that she is not a gardener, she is a creator of gardens but doesn't relish or enjoy the physical act of 'gardening', but the problem for me was that bare patches left by failed plants spoiled the effect that was trying to be achieved. Ann is a garden writer and an advocate of gardens being art, and yet in some places the problems with the planting could be likened to paint flaking from a canvas- you can still see the picture, but your eye is naturally drawn to the imperfections, taking your mind away from what the artist is trying to achieve. A few isolated patches could be dismissed, especially after a difficult winter, but the sense of half neglect was all around the garden. A couple of Valerian seedlings sticking out from the bold planting of Leymus diluted the statement, the area of very bold silver Cardoons underplanted with bronze Heuchera was let down by the patchiness of the Heuchera, the Hemerocallis with buds badly deformed by Hemerocallis Gall Midge let down the view from a seat... combined it was these little details, and more, that accumulated to let the garden down for me. The Veddw sets out to be something bold and artistic, but the execution of the art in places let the overall effect down.
It's fair to say that my visit to The Veddw has taught me some very interesting and important lessons. Firstly be bold with structure in the garden; the thick wavy hedges are not something that I would have had courage to do myself, but oh boy do they work! Secondly try to limit planting, especially in smaller spaces; although The Veddw has a wider range of plants in the garden than I was expecting they are grouped together carefully and with consideration... Rodgersias (my current fetish) are grouped together with other big plants to create harmony rather than a jarring collector's cabinet effect. Thirdly if you are going to stick your neck out and be different and encourage others to break away from horticultural conformity, the execution of your art must be exact; the bolder your garden the less you can get away with.
Don't just take my word for it, you can visit The Veddw on Sunday afternoons until the last Sunday of August, from 2-5pm. http://veddw.com/