Anne Wareham takes us through the inspirations behind the garden she created at Veddw.
In “A Book of Silence” Sara Maitland reflects on the place of gardens in the church and the monastic tradition and then goes on:
“I discovered there were modern and secular interpretations of this tradition – gardens that reflect, illustrate and develop personal philosophies and ideas of beauty; gardens that really are a form of art: Little Sparta, the late Ian Hamilton’s garden in Lanarkshire; Charles Jenks’ Garden of Cosmic Speculation; the Veddw, Anne Wareham’s garden near Monmouth. These gardens are an open-ended, always changing way of exploring personal meaning and the interior world; they are lovely places that hold together nature and culture; they find meaning in very mundane processes – and these are silent.”
Using the garden this way as a form of expression grew on me gradually and arose partly out of the way I experienced this part of the Welsh Borders when we arrived twenty two years ago.
We arrived here by chance, from London, out of a sudden and necessary change of plan. The countryside felt very strange – none of the pretty, cosy villages surrounded by fields I associated with the British countryside; instead an enormous number of tiny settlements scattered all over, with the odd church isolated in a field.
In an effort to understand the place I’d arrived in I began to research the local history. At the same time I began to make a garden on the two fields which flanked the house: me and my spade. It was a mad undertaking and remains one. We had no money to help us create the garden, so very little help, and I had no idea how to design or make a garden on this scale. And now we are faced with maintaining the result into our dotage, as we can never imagine leaving.
When I wasn’t garden making I was at the local record office trying to uncover the history of the agricultural labourer’s cottage we had bought. I discovered it was originally part of a squatter settlement and that the local landscape was much more ancient than that surrounding villages of the kind I had thought so typical of Britain. Inevitably I reflected on the people I was learning about, and the nature of the hard lives they had lived here and I began to find ways to pay homage to them in the garden I was making.
I am not attracted to informal gardens with wiggly borders, so I divided up the land in the bottom of the small valley above the house with a pattern of yew hedges, enclosing various gardens. The hedges provide sculptural delight in winter, especially when topped with frost, and I fronted the house with a four square garden with topiary, which similarly gives year round value.
And as one slope of the valley behind the house is visible from the other, I made a pattern there too. In recognition of one of the predominant activities in this landscape and its typical field form, – small fields with sinuous field boundaries, – I based the design on the 1848 Tithe Map of the Veddw. I outlined the ‘agricultural fields’ with hundreds of tiny box plants to create the field edges and filled the ‘fields’ with ornamental grasses, as echoes of their crops.
I also preserved in the design what original meadow I could spare from my ambitious garden making. Our local ‘meadow groups‘ have taught local people to preserve their meadows with their range of threatened wild flowers and grasses, and I have heeded their advice. The result is beautiful as well as worthy and every year there are more orchids complimenting my care of them.
I have added words to the garden where I can: one gate has an extract from a memoir of the local rag collector who built a school and chapel for the “rude, ragged, boisterous mountain children” who… suffered “occasionally from cold and hunger,” and (who were) “exposed to peculiar temptations.” Elsewhere I have erected memorial stones to the idiosyncratic Welsh border place names which have been lost or changed.
I am not the kind of gardener who jumps out of bed at four in the morning to attack the slugs. I value quiet and reflection; and so my favourite place in the garden is the reflecting pool. Shallow, and filled with mysterious black water (dyed with an organic black dye) it reflects the hedges, which we have shaped in echoes of the gentle curves of the Monmouthshire hills, the trees beyond them and the sky. There are no ornamental plants or flowers visible, so no weeds or work. Just peace, and the opportunity to sit amongst beauty and talk, or think, or just sit.
To find out more about Anne and her work, visit the Veddw site, or Thinking Gardens, the site she runs dedicated to critical appraisals of garden design. You can also buy ‘Discovering Welsh Gardens‘ by Charles Hawes and Stephen Anderton. All photos copyright Clive Nichols and Charles Hawes. Please hover your mouse over the image for credits. All rights reserved.