Review of Veddw House Garden by Robin White

June 2, 2007

in Garden Reviews, Reviews

Veddw House Garden - Robin White

The Meadow at Veddw House Garden © Charles Hawes

Veddw is splendid. I spent time there in quiet, appreciative contemplation, photographing and just looking, while across the garden the red-headed Anne Wareham roughly upbraided some yew columns with a hedge trimmer.

One of the things that makes Veddw good is its sure-footed combination of structure and planting. This duality – and how it is handled – is the measure of good gardens. There is always tension in gardens between nature and culture, between fluff and line, between plants’ wanton profligacy and gardeners’ urge to organize and manage. It is how that tension is played out that gives gardens their character and shows us the gardener’s mind.

Veddw House Garden - Robin White - Image 1

Leymus arenarius at Veddw House Garden © Charles Hawes

At Veddw the duality gets worked out through a kind of conceptual topiary. Clever hedges mimic the interlocking weft and weave of the local Monmouthshire hills. Swooping curve-backed benches pick up the theme. In another part of the garden a wayward wildflower meadow is organized and made sense of by an avenue of small, well-behaved lime trees, a mowed path and a foliage arc de triomphe.

The relationship of form and nature at Veddw is well-done and if that were all that was here it would be enough to leave a satisfying feeling of a day well-spent. But Anne and her partner Charles Hawes have threaded another element into the mix that takes the garden out of the ordinary realm and makes it much more modern. The two garden creators are aware of their piece of land as an historical and social tract (in both senses). The garden exists not just as a nice thing to look at but also with a place in social history – as a place in time where other uses and other users have come before. So on one bench are inscribed versions of the name Veddw as it has been written over time as the land and the county it is in have passed from Wales to England and back again. On a gate in the corner of the garden are 19th century accounts of people who have lived in the area in the past, “accustomed to poverty, inured to scanty fare, suffering occasionally from cold and hunger.”

Veddw House Garden - Robin White - Image 2

"this population" gate at Veddw House Garden © Charles Hawes

The references to the past are also inscribed within the garden itself. In one section boxwood hedges divide space according to the allocation of field boundaries from an 1848 Tithe map of their area.

But besides inhabiting the same piece of earth, what exactly the relationship is between the garden and the land in which it grows, or between the gardeners and those “inured to scanty fare” is not spelled out. If I were to give feedback about the garden – and Anne bravely invites criticism of the project – I would say that I would like to see this made sense of. How do the gardeners stand in relation to the history of their land? What is it that they are trying to say about the past, and the earlier inhabitants, beyond the fact that they were there too?

I wonder if the answer to my question might be more of a sense of indentification than the gardeners might like to admit. Just as the “farmers, quarrymen and woodcutters” leave marks on the land but themselves disappear with barely a trace, so too might gardeners, in a world that values the “lost” garden more than it does the living contemporary garden. The removal of the garden from the ‘Garden Finder’ does point to a kind of institutional neglect that might lead her to live, at least symbolically,  “on potatoes and the coarsest kind of bread” as did her predecessors on the land.

One hopes not. But whatever the connection between past and present, I would encourage the gardeners to reinforce it. Use it as the organizing principle of the garden and cut out all that pulls in another direction. It is already a strong garden. Make it stronger by concentrating it.

Robin White – garden designer, San Francisco

Robin visited Veddw House Garden on 24th may 2007

Robin White website

Veddw House Garden website

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