The last calf leaving the spring field before we started the garden.
This changed slowly and then all at once. A group of Paul’s A level students bought him a Rhododendron as a thank you gift at the end of their course. This was planted (in an unsuitable place) and was admired. Paul thought a few more Rhododendrons around the existing gardens would look nice so three more were bought at a huge price and also planted in the deep dry shade of our beech trees (an equally unsuitable place). We took ourselves to some local gardens to look at Rhododendrons; Colby, Picton Castle, Upton Castle and then further afield to Leonardslee, Bodnant and even some less Rhododendron based gardens. The bug had bitten!
We initially cut off a small slice of what we called the Spring Field and planted it up with shrubs and trees. Liz had always loved Cedrus atlantica and one was purchased for a birthday and planted in the Oak Field and a huge strong barrier was erected to keep the cows away. The cows had 24 hours a day to figure a way to get at the interesting morsel. This explains the shape of our oldest cedar!
We moved into Llwngarreg in December 1992 to extend our self-sufficient lifestyle, but with 28 acres we got sucked into small-scale farming. This proved satisfying, but exhausting and ultimately impossible.
We had always grown vegetables and fruit seriously as part of the self-sufficient ideal and we had some ornamental plants in our previous garden, but it was not a passion for either of us.
In 2001 it became clear that we had become gardeners and after the sale of the cows the Oak Field became “the garden”. We had some ideas on the structure and Liz made the basic paths by cutting them in deep grass with the ride on mower until we were both happy.
We wanted to divide the site up whilst avoiding obvious “garden rooms” so decided on an S shaped hedge from the dreaded Cupressus leylandii “Castlewelland” as we felt yew would be too slow. Possibly a mistake?
It certainly needs cutting twice a year.
We are both blessed and cursed with plenty of natural water. After an experimental dam on the main stream a series of dams were built to create a series of ponds with waterfalls and finally a rill was built.
This allowed us to build some terraces to grow dwarf rhododendrons in the peat we found (of which more later) and Primula prolifera on the lowest and hence wettest level.
We wanted an area to plant rhododendrons and trees quite densely and created what we call the “low walk” with wide borders on each side.
When we first decided to turn the field into a garden we felt that it was very flat, but there was a bit of a “valley” where the low walk was planned. One side was much lower so Paul decided to raise the right hand border using soil and peat from the “peat mine” (of which more later). It was dry enough to use the big tractor and the link box to instead of wheelbarrow!
A trip to Cornwall filled the car with the first plantings in these borders which looked forlorn for a year or two.
But not now!!..
Early on Paul was cutting the grass on the main part of the lawn and kept coming across a persistently wet patch even when the weather was what passes for dry in West Wales. Thinking he should investigate he fetched a spade and removed a small section of turf and struck peat about a spit down! Enlarging the hole to look for a broken drain he discovered that the peat was about a meter deep. Plans to use the peat instantly came to mind, a peat garden in the shade for primulas and meconopsis, peat for the dwarf rhododendron terraces, and excess soil to raise the level of the low walk border.
Early excavations with Paul and the tractor working on the deciduous azalea bed.
The hole will become a sunken garden (very eventually). The lawn was wet because the peat had blocked drains in it over a meter and half deep which needed to be replaced and the water led to the stream via a small pond created below the beech in the photograph. The peat stretched down to the stream (as subsequent excavations showed).
Drainage works in place in the sunken garden – still not complete.
A lot of the peat could be cut in blocks like a good moist Christmas cake and these were used to make the peat garden beds in a shady and very boggy part of the bog borders. The cows used to lie in the mass of reeds under an oak tree growing on the boundary bank when it was hot. This area was at the end of the low walk and a lot of drainage had to be put in as water funnelled into this area. The area was raised by a couple of foot and then the peat beds built using peat blocks and logs. The beds were filled with a mixture of peat and sharp grit.
Several “collecting trips” were necessary to find the right plants. Meconopsis, petiolarid Primulas ( heartbreakers!!) some choice dwarf rhododendrons, Lilium macklinae Nomocharis pardanthina, Dodecatheons and less successfully Veratrum nigrum. We planted them all and most thrived but the petiolarid primulas are difficult and we could not prevent the slugs from devastating the Veratrums. No matter how often we applied any type of slug pellet or nematode they always looked ragged. The successful plants seed around and we have doubled the size of the area covered. The two biggest problems are the moss which looks lovely but swamps smaller plants such as gentians and aggressive creeping ferns. Nobody seems to have mentioned to us that both the Ostrich fern Matteuccia struthiopteris and another were quite so invasive.
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This is what the garden looks like in May 2016, same view as in our first picture of the last cow!
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