Arriving in work on Tuesday I was illuminated to the fact there was a rather good cuttings workshop being held on Friday. Would I like to go? Where is it? Bath… UK
A morning to vaguely think about it and my impulsive selfish tendency won over and ruled that fuck it, yes, I was going to go. Life is short, I’ve waited and wasted too much of my life so far searching for the job I truly love. Now that I have it, I want to drink up as many experiences as possible, try to soak up knowledge by osmosis by drenching myself in horti-culture. Plus, I needed an excuse to take the works van on a long drive so I could get a shwingle on the handling of long-wheel base Transits… until Thursday, an activity avoided due to minor angst.
On Thursday, I began my journey (with a semi-reluctant partner). On a glorious Autumn day I didn’t crash the van and we made it (via boat) to Fishguard. Deciding on a whim to find a garden I had heard about, we set off headed into the Preseli uplands. Roads slowly disappeared into single narrow lanes with oblique bends with high stone walls looming over them at intervals. Stopping once for directions, we negotiated the first-gear-worthy hill and trundled into the car-park which revealed nothing about the garden other than a tastefully painted and built hut, that is the entrance to Dyffryn Fernant.
I like trust. I like to think that people are inherently good and that, given a real choice and treated with respect, people aren’t as arse-holey as we make out. It gave my heart a little lift to find an honesty box set up for entry fees, with a bowl of change ready for self-service. I loved this place already.
The first part of the garden you encounter is an area called ‘Hopeful Wood’. A meadow area with lightly mown paths. Peace descends through the light dappled shade as you idle down into ‘Nicky’s Field’. You wonder at first what’s going on here. Block after block of grasses, each block containing a species of grass, some blocks with tall Miscanthus types, others with Carex varieties. My first thought was that I’d wandered into a trial area, but as you walk deeper into the substantial space, squeezing yourself along the narrow paths between beds, you realise that suddenly the peace has become overwhelming. You are inhabited by the sun glinting through golden stems and silken flower heads, your cheeks and ankles are brushed by the planet’s most bountiful species, your ears are full of its song and as you glance into the stems or round the corners of the beds, you see the glory of the next bed, how it differs in texture, sound and movement. Viewed from back a bit and in the context of the larger surroundings, namely the backdrop of the heathy hillside, with its clumps of rushes and gorse and blobs of grazing sheep, the whole area makes sense, the block planting echoing the clumping nature of the native species, grasses like Lagurus ovatus imitating the distant ungulates. This area is very contemporary in its idea, it could be weird, but for me, it really worked. It made the grasses, typically used as a textural interest to show other plants off, important in their own right. You could appreciate their differences from each other, while still being ‘atmosphered’ by them.
Coming from this area you skirt a pond, all bullrushes and skydiving red Damselflies. By this stage I entered into some sort of lucid dream state. No doubt helped by tiredness, a stunning Autumn day full of golden light and long shadows and the absolute silence of the hillside. A tiny stream tickles along the edge of an area of marsh meadow, paved over the wettest bits with boardwalks. Things are allowed to just ‘be’ here. The stream is mostly hidden, until strategically placed bends are revealed from the undergrowth to present the cold, clear waters. The same approach has been taken with the ancient gnarly blackthorns, the oldest and gnarlyist of which have been cleared to stand and flood the area with their secrets. The marsh meadow, although gone from its prime, is still beautiful in its wildness. Stands of skeletal wild Angelica, and the faded golden/creams of autumn grasses and spent stems.
Climbing up toward the house, you enter via an orchard into a charming and small informally formal garden, bursting with clouds of Verbena bonariensis, Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’ and daubs of Calendula and Ricinis, among others, creating a wonderful ‘forgotten’ backgarden’ feel, helped by tumble-down stone walls, old pottery vessels, ajar gates and (possibly deliberate) avoidance of weeding certain weeds, native spurges are allowed to entertain areas of bed along with self seeded Nasturtiums in the walls.
Then I lose track of where we are and just drift, ending up in a sunken courtyard area with a reflective obelisk and wonky stone paving almost over-ridden by Cannas Et al. Then there’s the other thing, a little house, with pots of tenders surrounding it, a massive Fig clinging to its front, obscuring the doorway to a beautiful reading room containing a million gardening books, some large rocking chairs, some small ornaments, and tea and coffee, yes, or course, with a trust box! At this stage it was clear I was in one of the very loveliest dreams, one of those ones drenched in beautiful light, where you’re not needed anywhere and where you are being given an important message, you just have to figure out what it is you’re a part of.
I was still finding out as I gazed at Achilles’ arse from my perch on a massive hulk of mountain limestone, lovingly incorporated into the garden by having, not been fucked with, as it was a naturally occurring piece of terrain that happens on hillsides, where erosion peels off sections of the sheep grazey grass and mounds dillups and hummocks and splatters about them the otherworldly charisma of native mountain trees, all strung with the brightest red berries.
As you can tell, I LOVED this garden. As with all things, it was right time, right place on this particular day in late October. But this garden will soothe your soul and restore your belief in human nature. Someone has created this garden on a patch of boggy coastal heath-land, they haven’t tried to completely eradicate its nature, they have worked with it and allowed its edges to merge with the surrounding hillsides, not jarring with, but just becoming a particularly beautiful extension of the small hill valley it sits in. A red kite flew above us as we departed, riding the thermals of goodness that this garden emanates.