A Chelsea garden in Monmouthshire reviewed by Patterson Webster and Anne Wareham

June 22, 2017

in Articles, Garden Reviews, General Interest, Reviews

I recently had a very welcome visitor – Pat Webster of Site and Insight and garden maker of Glen Villa.

Arne Maynard’s garden, Allt-y-bela is only half an hour away from Veddw, in Monmouthshire, and is basically only open to Bed and Breakfast guests (or people attending events) so Pat booked in for B&B and obtained permission for us to accompany her to see the garden.

Then Pat, sadly, returned to Canada. But we wrote to each other about our visit and it seemed obvious, with Pat’s happy agreement, to publish our correspondence here, because it raises some interesting points. Here it is.

Anne Wareham, editor

Anne Wareham copyright Charles Hawes

 

 

 

 

 

Pat:

Allt-y-bela on thinkingardens. Copyright Anne Wareham

Pat, garden visiting.

I’ve been thinking about our visit to Allt-y-bela. I was really looking forward to it — I’d heard about the place from friends who stayed there and I’d read about it in Arne’s book. The photos I’d seen were intriguing and made the prospect of a visit even more appealing. And having seen the photos I was prepared for the colour of the house.

Allt-y-bela on thinkinardens Copyright Anne Wareham

The colour in this picture doesn’t quite capture it.

Allt-y-bela on thinkingardens. Copyright Patterson Webster

Maybe Pat got it better?

It was a shock even so. How to describe the colour? Mustard doesn’t do it, unless you imagine a combination of French’s mustard (the stuff North Americans put on hot dogs) combined with a dab of Dijon and a large dollop of cheap orange marmalade. I suppose you could call it ginger.

But whatever you call it, the colour shouted ‘look at me’ in a voice that made me want to close my eyes and my ears. When I heard that the colour had faded over time, I actually did close my eyes, if only for a moment. It must have been blindingly strong when it first went on.

So, is that a good thing? It’s a show-off colour, for sure, but as Charles pointed out, it made a great backdrop for the plants around it. Shades of green were beautifully delineated, as were the shapes of the topiary. At first I thought there were too many of those, too deliberately arranged, too perfectly balanced. But after getting over the initial shock, I began to like what I saw, colour included. The final touch was the cat – a Bengal tiger? – who toned in so perfectly with the façade that he surely was chosen for that reason alone.

Allt-y-bela cat on thinkingardens. Copyright Patterson Webster

A very fine cat indeed.

 

Allt-y-bela on thinkingardens. Copyright Anne Wareham

Since I stayed overnight at the B&B, I had time to wander around the garden after you left. I sat in the shade on the hillside looking down on the house and out beyond onto the countryside, giving time for the quiet to seep in. Or the almost quiet. Birds were making the predictable noises and the chickens in their cage near my chair were clucking loudly as they strutted around. To me they sounded annoyed, as if they wished I wasn’t there.

Which is somehow the way the garden as a whole made me feel. And this, despite admiring so much of what I saw. I liked the sweep of the canalized stream. The stone work was fine and the curves of stone on the terraced hill above it created very satisfying lines. I liked the staging of the plants along the stream, the way they moved from apparent wildness where the water entered the garden to studied informality beside the terraces to shrubby wildness again. I liked the espaliered trees (hornbeams?) that created a cozy courtyard in front of the old hall house.

Allt-y-bela on thinkingardens. Copyright Anne Wareham

 

Allt-y-bela Beech Spiral on thinkingardens. Copyright Patterson Webster

 

The beech spiral with the urn in the centre was a nice variation from the more formal topiary shapes. Yet the garden didn’t welcome me. I felt unnecessary, unwanted.

Looking at my photos, I’m struck by how well maintained the garden was. There were no weeds and not one of the many topiaries needed pruning. The lawns were mown in contrasting strips, nicely paralleled, and the vegetable garden was neatly in order.

Allt-y-bela on thinkingardens. Copyright Anne Wareham

 

I like a more easy-going air but I don’t think it was tidiness that put me off. It certainly wasn’t the weather – we couldn’t have asked for a nicer day. Nor can I criticize it as a B&B. My room was spacious, everything worked the way it was meant to, breakfast was to cooked to order and everyone I spoke to was helpful and kind.

So why my reaction to the garden? Was it the deliberateness of it all? Every bit of it was studied, with repetition and variation as a theme. The beach spiral mirrored the spiral staircase inside. Topiary pruned in layers matched the windows on the floors inside the house. The meadow plantings had just the right amount of shocking discord to offset the other softly colour coordinated plants. Empty flower pots were stacked artlessly, with one or two on their side to suggest the arrangement happened by accident. (Do you think it did?)

Allt-y-bela on thinkingardens. Copyright Anne Wareham

One design element puzzled me, a cruciform layout. I noticed it first in small cuttings of boxwood near the old granary, then saw it in the edge of a border, then in the arrangements of boxwood balls at the rear of the house. (I remember you asking if I thought the boxwood should be trimmed straight. I remember saying no, I liked them as they were. And looking at my photos, I stick by that. The round shapes are cheery, like soft downy green cushions leaning back against the ginger walls of the house.)

Allt-y-bela on thinkingardens. Copyright Anne Wareham

I found those repeated cruciform shapes rather peculiar. What did the shape suggest? Did it mirror some architectural feature, perhaps the moldings on the windows? Did it suggest something more abstract or was it simply an element the designer liked?

Asking these questions jolted me out of enjoyment into analysis. And analysis erased the pleasure of the moment. Which, I’ve concluded, is part of the reason the garden left me cold.

The main reason, though, was the overwhelming sense of showmanship. This was a garden more to be looked at than lived in. It was self-conscious, not awkwardly like an ingenue but like an actress on a Broadway stage who is aware of her appeal and who turns this and that to be seen from all sides. That made my role easy to define – I was the admiring observer.

I keep asking myself if I would have liked Allt-y-bela more had the owners been present. Almost certainly I would have – being with an owner who is also the maker of a garden establishes a personal relationship that adds immensely to the experience. Perhaps with them around the garden would have captured my heart. But it never did.

One final point. Do you remember when we first arrived, how you commented on the well-staged ‘naturalness’ of the stream? That comment sticks in my mind. There’s a tension at Allt-y-bela between the apparent and the actual or real. As a stage set, it came close to perfection but I found myself longing for authenticity, even if that ‘real’ note was a wrong one.

I found one, of course –  the wooden picnic table on the lawn near the canalized stream. I can easily imagine ordinary people sitting there to eat their lunch from a paper bag. That table was real. And it felt wrong. So while I was longing for a wrong note, contrary individual that I am, once I found it I wanted to switch it out for something more elegant.

Allt-y-bela on thinkingardens. Copyright Anne Wareham

What about you, Anne? Where does Allt-y-bela sit with you now?

 

________________________________

Anne:

It’s a happy memory, for sure. A treat to be there with you. It’s so good to garden visit with someone who doesn’t admire the unadmirable.

I love your detailed description, which I could never manage. But several things stay for me, amongst them the stream. Streams have soggy edges, which encourage rough coarse plants to grow – docks, nettles, rushes, coarse grass, and the effect is usually rather — rough. Allt-y-bela’s stream looks as if it has been lifted straight out of a Chelsea show garden, with immaculately placed and chosen plants sitting prettily at the edge waiting for actors dressed up as Ratty and Mole to appear to remind us that this is the Wind in the Willows garden. The plants are cleverly placed, just in the way that nature will never oblige. And, as you suggest, the whole garden is as stage managed as this.

Allt-y-bela on thinkingardens. Copyright Anne Wareham

I find that fascinating. And I am just as fascinated about why I mind at all – or, actually, do I? It makes it a very different garden, very particular and we have few enough of those. And, as you say, the blobs, land sculpting and planting are all placed exactly as you’d wish, with a matching cat.

The next thing then is the peopling of the garden. I regretted that it had had its history bled out of it; that it was impossible to imagine any other time of its life than now. For me, with an eager appetite for that elusive brush with those other past lives, that glimpse which makes your hair stand on end a little, that felt a shame. Previous inhabitants had been well and truly cleaned out.

But I didn’t want the owners. Mind you, I particularly feel those owners don’t want me – being such close neighbours in garden terms who have never even managed a real ‘hello’. And I am aware that that must have informed my responses to the garden. I felt uncomfortable, being there. But I am curious that you wished for them and felt that they would have made a positive difference.

It’s an interesting question. I do know that I have met many people who have been badly disappointed by The Laskett. But those who have met Sir Roy Strong there tend to like it. He is a critical difference, clearly. A garden ornament, you might say. And you think Arne Maynard would have been too? What does that mean, as an aspect of a garden? Should the owner always be present – and welcoming? The 21st century house’s equivalent of the 18th century hermit in his hovel? A critical addition to the ambiance? An interpreter?

I’m not sure that I ever want the owner of the garden added, unless they are really interesting people, or a friend (which is different) in which case they would still distract me from the garden. But if it were possible I would sneak off for a look on my own. We made a garden visit last year which was made dreadful by our being shown round, so that we were unable to take in anything really because of the relentless need to respond to the conversation and the owner’s preoccupations. And we never did get left alone. (But we went round Veddw with you. Shame on us?)

I think I was looking for a kind of edge, asking about the rounded boxwood. Just something to imagine differently and play with.

Allt-y-bela on thinkingardens. Copyright Anne Wareham

A visit to Allt y bela on a sunny afternoon is definitely a pleasure. But we wonder why we have a little niggling discontent? What ideal garden is it failing to be? Well, maybe just a perfect one. It looks perfect and we discover that means it isn’t. You thought it ought to be like the traditional Turkish carpet, with a mistake included to show that the maker is not trying to outstrip God?

But I don’t think it was the wrong note that you needed to bring it to life. The imperfection is its lack of life. As we agreed, it doesn’t feel lived in. It’s a stage set. So we wouldn’t want it, not as it is. That was a good question – ‘would you want this garden?’ by the way. To tuck in with ‘what would you blow up?’ as ways in to better understanding when garden visiting.

That’s what we’re after too – understanding. Why didn’t it simply delight us?

An interesting thing. The meadow looks brand new.

Allt-y-bela on thinkingardens. Copyright Anne Wareham

Allt-y-bela on thinkingardens. Copyright Anne Wareham

I think the land has been sculpted with an earth mover and the meadow newly sown on the result. It doesn’t look like ours, which is, shame on me for mentioning it, about two hundred years old. Which reminds me of the cleaned out previous occupants. This is a place which has all been rebuilt, cleaned up and newly made. Maybe what’s missing is that, paradoxically, it hasn’t had time or opportunity to mature. To weather a bit and settle down. To relax.

Anne

Pat Webster  website  

and with thanks for several photographs courtesy of Pat.

Pat Webster portrait

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David Feix July 17, 2017 at 3:49 am

Interesting to hear such strong criticisms of this home and garden. From a Californian perspective, I love the strong colors, bold forms and interesting hardscape textures which provide sculptural qualities to the spaces that so often seem too fussy to me in so many English classic gardens. I like the crisp clean plantings that don’t seem to follow the blowsy midsummer look of so many English gardens with their double borders and overflowing plantings.
A matter of different gardening experiences, mine are west coast Mediterranean climate with bright summer light and drought, or tropical abundance of the wet tropics of Brazil and Malaysia, or the sere deserts of Saudi Arabia and contrasting enclosed, oasis gardens. I don’t know of the designer or history of the property, so can simply see it on its own terms without the judgements several English critics bring to this garden. No doubt the impact a garden has is heavily influenced by all the “outside” attitudes and experiences a visitor has, as well as their emotional make-up the day of the visit.

Corinna Arnold June 30, 2017 at 10:02 am

Hello Anne and Pat

What an interesting thread of thoughts and comments about Allt-y-bella—I’m hoping they haven’t influenced my thinking too much! I was with Alice a few weeks ago on the same tour and was fascinated by the history of the house and how it has, at least twice now that we know of, had owners who wanted to create a statement: first, in the 17th century, Roger Edwards, the wealthy Midlands merchant who made Renaissance style alterations to the medieval house after a Continental tour and now Arne Maynard, who has restored the house and landscaped the gardens. Both struck me as thought-provoking examples of we react to land and architecture, how we feel compelled to structure it in ways that reflect our very personal interests and what we want to convey to those who might see them.

For me, the house still seems the centre of this garden although the garden is now becoming as important as the house—which is a new development, new for the property, given its history. The garden itself seems a work in progress, a series of not necessarily connected spaces where garden elements are being trialled and may well vanish and change entirely over the course of the coming years. I loved the idea of topiary as “guests at a party”, grouping where they feel most comfortable, which we were told was one of Maynard’s approaches to it here, but wasn’t sure it has quite settled in yet—the guests will still be moving around a bit, I suspect. The theatre and its seating area, separated by the stream, are a very 21st century way of ensuring that the particulars of the Trust which Edwards set up and which allows locals access to the property, parts of which are still common land, are upheld. I could comment endlessly on the meadows and stream and other aspects of the gardens and whether they “work” but much of that is just my personal preference—some of it appealed to me, some didn’t. But my first and final thoughts remain with the way in which properties reflect their owners who in turn reflect their era and its interests.

annewareham June 30, 2017 at 11:29 am

Interesting. We were not ‘shown’ so missed the bit about common land and public access. It now makes me wonder if we were picking up on a result of that? A feeling that it isn’t entirely their own and perhaps some ambivalence about that. And perhaps the influence of being a professional designer, when a garden is never truly your own, but your client’s?

Alice Hogge June 27, 2017 at 3:42 pm

Hi Anne and Pat. Thank you for this article and the accompanying comments a) because I too have just visited Allt-y-bella (something in the air?) and b) because your discussion has now got me pondering my own responses to the garden. I loved it, but now I’m trying to work out why. Okay, I’m a sucker for the colour orange…so A-y-b had me at ‘hello’. But does it help to know the colour comes from local iron-ore pigment rather than from Acme Inc.? The eyes respond the same but the brain now ticks an ‘authenticity’ box (as someone said above). I guess for me, that makes it even better, but ought it to? And then there’s my first impression of the place, formed not through photos but from trying to find out something – anything – about the garden before my visit, like how to get to it and useful stuff like that. (Backstory: I was invited to tag along on a garden tour so long as, if asked, I said I was a garden designer. Ruthless impersonation. Judge my taste by my crummy morals.)

So the only info I could find was on the B&B website, which set me thinking that this was a garden that really didn’t want to be seen, except as an adjunct to the house. Sitting in the Garden Theatre it was the house that drew my attention. Looking at the various cruciform shapes I knew that if I could only get up into that tower – look at that tower! – I’d see them all the better. Wildflower meadows? They seemed designed simply to root the house in the wider landscape. Spiral Mound? Round and round you go and, look, there’s that house again. So, no, for me, the garden wasn’t a self-conscious leading lady. Rather, it was an accomplished bit-part player, there to let the buildings shine. But is this only because my initial encounter with the garden – and, indeed, Arne Maynard – was through the B&B website? (I knew I should have listened to my mother when she told my sulky teenage self that first impressions count for all.) I’ve now decided I need to go and stay at Allt-y-bella – ruthless impression of a B&B guest – and see if that changes my perspective. See what I mean about crummy morals?!

annewareham June 27, 2017 at 4:01 pm

Never let self-doubt overwhelm a first impression…. Xxx

Susan Cohan June 26, 2017 at 11:00 am

I wonder if this garden beyond being a place for a designer to experiment with ideas and space was created for the vignettes it would offer for photographs. It photographs beautifully and many gardens don’t. I only know Maynard’s work through photographs and books and have thought them to be lovely. I’ve never had the opportunity to view any of his work as a whole to see if it hangs together that way. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I have been charged to design a garden for a property that is going to be used for photography but will primarily be a place for a young family. It’s an interesting problem and a possible explanation for the areas of perfection, newness and the yearning for soulfulness that you both felt.

annewareham June 26, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Interesting thought. And issue. It could be. I understand there is a photographer on the premises.

And also – is ‘lovely’ enough?(it’s the ubiquitous description of a British garden so maybe I’m jaundiced or especially demanding.) It may generally be enough but we come to some places with expectations of something slightly more? I hope to discuss the questions this post has raised further with Pat. And you perhaps? A thinkingardens piece on your dilemma and solutions?

Maggie Biss June 25, 2017 at 10:14 pm

As you predicted Anne, I loved it – and I didn’t even see the chickens!
We heard a lot about the history of the house and surrounding land, the fact that the external colour was found underneath layers of paint within in the house, a lot about why the garden design is as it is and the enthusiasm of Steve, the gardener, won us over.
Flooding has been a major problem, hence the cultivated stream running deep below the garden level. – a bit of a danger in the dark,
I found the meadows ok. They are trying hard with hay rattle, doing all the right things.

And I want some copper beach balls!

annewareham June 25, 2017 at 10:57 pm

What a surprise, Maggie! Xxxxx

Diana Studer June 27, 2017 at 5:09 pm

I would love to know how a third pair of eyes saw the house colour, Maggie?
Between the camera and the laptop, I cannot know quite how it looks in life.

Curious that Pat and Anne disliked the stong colour, as I can think of strong red in Pat’s garden, and the wavy wall in Anne’s garden (old rose, terracotta, coral? Again difficult for me to know without seeing it in life)

My own reaction is more positive, Majorelle blue. That intense colour on an unusually tall house makes the structural green garden sing.

Perhaps the chilly unlived in feeling comes from being staged for BnB guests? Is there a private family corner somewhere?

Diana Studer June 27, 2017 at 5:12 pm

(Sorry Anne, I am confusing wavy topiary hedges with a pink wall)

annewareham June 27, 2017 at 11:15 pm

I liked the house colour.I think Pat came round to it too. And yes, Diana, our waviness is green…. Our controversial colour is black. xx

Pat Webster www.siteandinsight.com June 25, 2017 at 9:23 pm

I feel like a winner in every way. First because I had a chance to visit the garden, and to visit it with Charles and Anne. Then because I had a chance to discuss it in writing with Anne. Finally, because of everyone’s comments. As Andrew Montgomery has just written, the place and responses to it have stimulated a great discussion. Thanks to all!

Andrew Montgomery June 25, 2017 at 10:09 am

This is a significant place because it has stimulated such a great discussion, the most dismal garden is one which leaves no impression at all. Well done to the gardener for firing us all up.
Anne’s comment about retaining “past lives” in a garden is the best design tip I have ever heard and will certainly hold on to, thanks Anne.

annewareham June 25, 2017 at 10:20 am

It’s something I am very conscious of at Veddw, those previous inhabitants. And the fact that one day that will be us = http://veddw.com/general/finished/

Andrew Montgomery June 26, 2017 at 11:20 am

A wonderful piece of sandstone with a message which is powerful and gentle all at the same time, whoever is fortunate enough to be gardening your Vedww a hundred years hence is bound to appreciate and enjoy it
Had the lines not been ascribed to Eliot it would have felt simpler and stronger and there would have been the fun of testing visitors knowledge and frantically searching for our own! Then if your names had been carved on the back of the stone I could, as the gardener, have imagined I had been the first to find them and would have felt a deep connection, shared only by those who worked and loved the place.
Your blog is such good reading, a new discovery for me and a total delight. Excuse this too personal viewpoint, it is only one unimportant voice to be drowned out by those with a greater appreciation!

annewareham June 26, 2017 at 12:09 pm

It’s great to have so much thought brought to our work – thank you. We left space below our names for our successors, but we could have done that on the back, true. It would have diluted the confrontation with us which it offers as it is. It’s good for us to be humbled.

Andrew Montgomery June 26, 2017 at 12:31 pm

Appreciated, definitely appreciated, not humbled please .A 98% jaw droppingly amazing garden should have been more emphatically said. Charge me double when I visit then lash me to the back of the stone and leave me there to reflect!

annewareham June 26, 2017 at 12:38 pm

I’ll keep the chains to hand! Xxx

annewareham June 26, 2017 at 12:26 pm

O – and I think we should always credit the maker, shouldn’t we?

Sheppard Craige June 24, 2017 at 3:56 pm

Perhaps the problem with Allt-y-bella is that the house appears to be sitting in the middle of everything. Would it look better without the house?
This prompts a selection of house-garden design strategies:
1. House surrounded by garden (Versailles).
2. House on edge of garden (Sissinghurst)
3.House set back from edge of garden (Rousham)
4. Ancient ruin of a house in Garden. (Ninfa)
5. House in garden deliberately built to be tilting (Bomarzo)
6. No house anywhere in garden.

This last was my choice some 25 years ago. It certainly has its advantages.

Sheppard Craige

Marty Godsey June 24, 2017 at 3:42 am

The house is beautiful and the gardens are beautiful. The owner/creator sees the world in technicolor and wants others to see that. Actually, the gardens are an accompaniment to the house, making one notice it and appreciate it. The tidy order of everything in the landscape, or studied order if more apt, is appealing to me. It reminds me that we are given inspiration and vision to create something out of natural order that is uniquely one’s own. The green against the ginger/caramel is quite a statement. So perhaps the gardens are only meant to be an introduction to the household and not a place to feel a part of. I might say it is lush carpeting that one may walk upon for pleasure, but linger there only long enough to receive invitation to tea. Is the house the garden’s best feature?
House is the garden’s best ornament.

Don Statham June 23, 2017 at 8:28 pm

The garden seems to have all of the wonderful bones of Maynard garden, but not much of the poetry. I was struck hearing him talk at Hollister House Garden a few years back -how he kept going back to his gardens and throwing seed in the parking areas to soften the hardscape. When I think of his other gardens you see the strong planting through the wildness or veil of plants. I don’t see much of that in this garden but perhaps with time the meadow wont look so new and maybe a gardener will let loose with some wildflower seed. They way you both discribe the feeling of vacancy of the place being lived in and cared for is something I could never get around. Thanks for your comments and for showing me this garden.

Mary James June 23, 2017 at 7:27 pm

Really interesting to read both your comments on this garden which I have always wanted to visit. Arne has been a very good supporter of WFGA and has enthused many of our members over the years. I went to one of his lectures a couple of years ago about his designs and feelings about gardens so am very surprised that his own garden doesn’t seem to reflect what I saw and felt listening to him. I would have expected it to be much looser, more romantic garden than it sounds and looks from the photos. Interesting. I wonder why it is so different from what I perceived to be his style of gardening. Mary

Julie Kinney June 23, 2017 at 4:01 pm

Wonderful conversation. For me the garden owner is often an explanation of a garden, its soul if you like. The Laskett without Sir Roy leading us around would be just a another garden but with the dreammaker it comes alive and explains itself. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to slide off and have time on your own. It doesn’t mean you have to like it but to have an understanding of why it is, makes for a better experience in my opinion. This may not be the same in an historic garden where maintenance is the main event although to walk around with a head gardener of many years and hear the passion can be a joy.
Interesting, intriguing owners add a frisson to their gardens and allow for much more thought provoking discussion post visit as analysis takes place.

annewareham June 23, 2017 at 5:06 pm

I hope that’s not a universal opinion. It’shard on those of us who are naturally reclusive and shy, and who want the garden to speak for itself.

Joanne Toft June 23, 2017 at 2:30 pm

I loved the discussion between the two of you. Thanks for using this style to share your thoughts. I am a lowly home gardener in the U.S. that agrees (at least through photos) this garden is staged. It is missing that lived in sense of home. It doesn’t seem to belong to the wild world of plants nor to the world of people. It feels more like a painted picture missing the ghosts of it’s past. I would love to see historical photos of this land to understand the changes, to find it’s history.

Mary Jane Glass June 23, 2017 at 2:27 pm

I am really troubled by the comments of both of you. This garden seems magical to me. I can’t believe you are complaining about anything to do with it. Maybe if you lived in the U.S. and saw what passes for a garden, you wouldn’t be so stingy with your praise. A couple of weeks ago I went to six gardens in Frederick, Maryland (five, because one we just turned around and left, it was so dreadful) open to benefit the Garden Conservancy. This garden you so dislike makes me want to hop on a plane to go visit. Those in Frederick were deeply depressing. (Here is our copy of Hampton Court’s long border, there is our copy of the hornbeam ellipse at Dumbarton, there are our three ways to cook outside surrounded by red wax begonias, etc.)

Abbie Jury June 23, 2017 at 5:42 pm

Mary Jane – I am troubled by your response, your use of words like “complain”, “stingy” and “dislike”. There is a world of difference between analysing a low level garden opening as a one-off for charity (which it sounds as if your Frederick experience was) and an advanced discourse by discerning and experienced people of a top level garden. I read that discussion as a really interesting analysis and interpretation with much food for thought. They acknowledged the areas in the garden that were a delight to them, gave credit where credit was due and mused over aspects that left both of them somewhat discomfited. I don’t see that as complaints by people who disliked the garden. I think it is an interesting critique. I don’t know anything about this garden or the owner, but I think it is actually an honour to have people take your work seriously enough to give it this sort of thought and context.

Cindy at enclos*ure June 24, 2017 at 11:06 am

I’ve really admired pictures of this garden too, but I know that an actual visit lets you see and feel things that are selected out by most photographers. Reading Pat and Anne’s critiques and then looking closely at their photos, I can see that for all the lovely color (to me) and beautiful fiddle-ly topiary, espalier, and stonework, Allt-y-bella does seem to lack some life and comfortable stopping spaces (rooms). It does look a lot like a (a very good) Chelsea show garden — or a place where Maynard was working out certain ideas; he teaches gardening techniques and garden design classes there. That doesn’t mean I won’t still admire many of its elements and possibly use them as inspiration when making a garden of my own.

(I’m so with you on those damned red wax begonias.)

Julie quinn June 23, 2017 at 12:03 pm

I loved reading this article. I has felt the same about a recent visit to Great Dixter. A garden can feel like a stage set – something asking to be admired and envied which for me is not what a garden is for. Great Dixter made me want to leave! I felt in the way; in the way of the gardeners beavering away in the borders to make everything perfect for visitors. I felt I couldn’t have sat or stayed in the garden, only walked through it feeling small and unwelcome. If all a garden wants me to do is admire it then it’s not for me.

By contrast Belmont Gardens felt like home and I sat on a bench and fell in love with the place.

Thankyou for writing such a thought-provoking article which makes me feel I am not alone in feeling out of step with everyone else.

annewareham June 23, 2017 at 1:06 pm

I don’t think you are out of step. It’s simply that the garden world does not like to be honest about gardens or discuss why they work or don’t work openly in print and online. The result is that many of us have felt isolated and ‘wrong’. Thank you for being prepared to speak. (And Julie’s review of Great Dixter is on her site Londoncottagegarden.com) Xx

Helen Gray June 30, 2017 at 11:05 am

I had a similar reaction to Highgrove. Masterful planting, provocative artwork, but not a single place in which I could imagine an actual human enjoyably loitering without intent, or sitting down with a cup of tea & reading the papers. Perhaps that’s why I rather like the infra dig picnic table at Allt-y-bela – I clearly have a personal preference for points where the garden invites one to stop and linger, as opposed to marching through and marvelling.

annewareham June 30, 2017 at 11:24 am

Interesting thought. I visited a garden yesterday – it had some great features. We were shown round by the head gardener who was in fact the garden maker too, and very good at both making and showing. But reflecting after on the garden and on being ‘shown’ I did feel that the garden had become a procession. Spectacle rather than experience?

James Golden June 23, 2017 at 4:24 am

I’ve never been to this garden, but I’ve disliked it in photos. (On the other hand, I really like this “dialogue” approach and would like to see more of it.) I’m left feeling “rattled” after reading your comments, and I’m not sure what I mean–ill at ease, perhaps something like Pat’s feeling of not being welcome there? But that word comes powerfully to mind. I don’t at all feel neutral to this garden; I distinctly dislike it, and the dislike starts with the color of the house and the “attitude” that caused it to be that color.

annewareham June 23, 2017 at 9:42 am

In fairness, James, it should perhaps be pointed out that evidence from paint remnants suggests that that paint colour was used on the house at some point earlier in its history, so it is an acknowledgement of that history.

Maggie Biss June 22, 2017 at 3:13 pm

As it happens, and maybe yet another coincidence Anne, I’m going there for the first time tomorrow evening and the owner will be showing us round.
So I have found this so incredibly useful!
I’ll let you know my reaction.

annewareham June 22, 2017 at 3:55 pm

You’ll love it – there are chickens! Xxx

Cindy at enclos*ure June 22, 2017 at 3:11 pm

This is very interesting because I have always really admired pictures of this garden. Two things pop into my head:

It’s a garden that I have associated with “authenticity” — making use of colors and shapes from the vernacular of that region. It’s interesting that what I have admired in photos, you seem to be struggling with in real life — it just being a little too perfect and “bled out.”

Also, I have always resisted the idea of most gardens, even many extremely good gardens, as “art,” because one lives in a garden ( I know that’s vague). I realize that both of you have made gardens that are extremely artful, but because you both seem to inhabit them so thoroughly, I don’t want to call them artworks — they seem to me something more important than that, actually. So it’s interesting that you both regret the absence of the life of the designer/gardener or of any kind of inhabitant (even historic, ghosts?) other than staff and guests. You seem to be missing emotion and atmosphere. Although — and here I muddle myself, I know — if the garden is art, perhaps it can conjure both. Allt-y-bela sounds like a very fine piece of craft.

I love Pat’s comments about the buildings’ color — particularly since, in photos, it seems to range from light orange to strong yellow.

annewareham June 22, 2017 at 4:00 pm

Pat has just sent me a better photo of the house, which I will add shortly. Interesting thought about art needing the life of the makers. I always think the nearest parallel is theatre or dance. (maybe Allt-y-bella’s theatre is an ‘attitude’ ?https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma,_Lady_Hamilton#Attitudes)

Jane June 22, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Well I enjoyed that. Conversation is a good way to conduct criticism. I regret so much the passing of Saturday Review (radio 4) for that very reason.

In that first photo I thought Uh Oh when I saw the picnic table.

Interesting about the strength of the colour. Pretty original though, and does look good in the photos with the green.

Ann’s point about newness is good. Not so sure about the ones about heart, but you gave it a good kickaround.

Katherine Crouch June 22, 2017 at 2:18 pm

I think it is difficult to write about a garden that you don’t particularly care for, despite its obvious character, clean design and good maintenance, without being tempted to criticize the maker and owner. Anne, you have steered this difficult course with great tact and skill.
It is much easier to wander round a questionable Open Garden muttering ‘how nice’, thank the owner sweetly and then in typical British fashion, tell everyone how ghastly it was. Thank you Anne, for doing this the Thinkingardens way.

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