THE PEMBROKESHIRE COAST, A FOREST IN CEREDIGION AND THE PERFECTION OF ABERGLASNEY
It has been a dazzling April – except for today when I set off for a walk in my navy blue fur coat and return ridiculously soaked and bedraggled like a cartoon dog who has been up to no good.
Every morning I have been watching the sun creep over the back fence of our garden in South London and feeling as the day goes on that I can see the plants growing before my very eyes.
We have just visited West Wales for three days and have enjoyed three perfect walks. The first walk was a whole day and a picnic along part of the Pembrokeshire coastal path:
Much of the way is lined with cow parsley – I love this moment when the cow parsley is still tight and yellow-green and you get that first-snatched taste of the lacy fullness to come.
Turn a corner as the sun comes out and you could think you are suddenly in the Aegean:
Dense cushions of thrift (Armeria maritima) soften the path:
The thrift’s bobbing pink heads cling astoundingly to the cliff edges:
If you look closely amongst the floppy fringe of grasses in the plainest most exposed parts of the path, there are soft mauve sweet violets everywhere:
The expression ‘shrinking violet’ was first used to describe the violet’s modesty by Victorian essayist Leigh Hunt. It was quickly taken up as an expression to describe a quiet, even introverted personality.
On this walk I am fascinated at the way the flowers take such pains to lurk behind other foliage – and I cannot get the image of Dash’s gawky teenage sister hiding shyly behind a curtain of hair in the brilliant INCREDIBLES movie out of my head. Only when I get home and look her up am I reminded that the character is course perfectly named, Violet!
Violet from the wonderful Pixar Movie, The Incredibles, hiding behind her hair
Sweet violets hiding behind lush Welsh grass
Other wild flowers on our route are the lovely sea campion (Silene uniflora) – bright white flowers held by a delicate, smokey pink calyx:
Neat mounds of common scurvy grass (Cochlearia officinalis):
– its leaves full of Vitamin C, traditionally much valued by sailors as a protection against scurvy.
And there is the constant presence of blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) – its spikey white-splashed framework looking entirely gorgeous against the surprisingly rich blue of the water below:
The pale grey frills of lichen are breathtaking close-up:
By the time I see this blocky, white-washed, cliffside farmhouse I am ready to move in and create a seaside garden of my own, planting it very simply but generously with the sort of plants that have we have just walked past.
At the end of our walk stands the 1930’s chapel of St Non – a notice tells us that church services are no longer held here as when the rain beats against the chapel it can penetrate the two and a half feet walls in less than thirty minutes.
Inside there is the stained glass window of St Non by a follower of William Morris. The clear royal blue and turquoise are surprisingly vibrant in the suddenly chilly low light at the end of the day:
The next day I make sure to get a reassuring fix of timeless Welsh moss in a favourite stretch of forest near Brechfa in Carmarthenshire
Here the moss is everywhere – on the bare branches of deciduous trees:
Clothing the base of trunks and catching fragments of available light: Forming softly carpeting ripples:
that make you want to stop and look closer:and closer still.
This is real Wales to me. We amble through the forest before lunch on Sunday and I feel rooted and cushioned by our visit.
On the way back to London, still in Carmarthenshire, we visit the restored medieval gardens of Aberglasney. The perfection of the immaculately gardened grounds is occasionally overwhelming but there are some very beautiful elements and as always ideas to try to take away.
In the woodland garden we walk amongst competition quality examples of shade loving planting. There are still some perfect examples of the beautiful pink edged Helleborus orientalis ‘Harrington Double White Speckled’:
and as the hellebores begin to fade a sea of pretty leaved Aquilegia foliage is rising up to take over – a perfect and practical example of successional planting:
Paths are generously edged with my favourite dicentra – the glaucous leaved woodland dicentra, Dicentra formosa – lower growing and gentler in every way than its sometimes brash cousins: Elsewhere the classic brilliant blue flowered Omphaloides cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’ is used again in large simple swathes: And there are pools of the lovely pale blue grape hyacinth, Muscari Valerie Finnis – I have coveted this for a while now – time to put it definitively on my bulb order for September 2014I also made a luscious new discovery- Jeffersonia diphylla:
This North American woodland plant has wonderful rounded bow-ties of bright green leaves and will bear bowl shaped anemone like white flowers later in the month – available to buy in the UK from Long Acre Plants, a great nursery which specializes in plants for shade.
And then there are the beautiful bones of the garden, old stone walls which are wonderfully exploited in different ways throughout.
Here the handsome crenellated wall provides a strong structural shape to balance the mature trees beyond and acts as a backdrop for the brightly coloured bedding in front.
In some parts of the garden the walls are left plain – moments of plant-free calm
Elsewhere they offer wonderfully framed openings onto new areas of the garden:
Where the walls are clothed in plants the approach is simple and uncluttered. There is an entire wall of ivy leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) – a delicate trailing plant with tiny ivy-like leaves and lilac flowers ‘like tiny snapdragons’ ( turn to Chiltern Seeds if you would like to recreate the look) all summer. This plant was introduced to the UK from Europe in the Seventeenth Century and is perfect for growing in crevices and on walls to create a soft atmosphere in a new wall.
There are further crenellated walls elegantly laced with stems of Virginia creeper – again I am moved by this moment in the year when you can almost see the new leaves growing, trying to cover the wall completely.
And in the walled kitchen garden there is a magnificent stretch of perfect ‘Belgian Fence’ trained apples and pears:
It’s fascinating to see how far behind the trained apples are on the left of the steps:compared to the trained pears:
There are also two handsome crab apple tunnels which I remember visiting years ago in late summer when they were heavy with tiny red fruit:
The crab apple used here is the compact and particularly broad variety, Malus sargentii, which has a profusion of long-lasting neat cherry-like red fruit from August onwards. The neat pink buds will open to white and the tunnel should be in full flower by the end of April/beginning of May.
Many parts of the garden are linked by immaculately cobbled and criss-cross patterned stone paths:
And through a final archway is a storybook perfect fritillary meadow bathed in sunshine:
And so back to South London with a jolt but amazingly the blue skies continue. When we stop for lunch even the wall in the pub car park is bursting into life:
Back in our kitchen I look up at the glorious fig tree outside the back door. There is the same buzz of excitement I felt witnessing the unfurling cow parsley in Pembrokeshire and the still separated leaves of the virginia creeper at Aberglasney – again I am witnessing a plant which is growing towards the summer before my very eyes:
Sea campion, moss and a Ninfarium – obviously – in the land of St Non
I had no idea there was a chapel of St Non – poor her, being soaked through by determined Welsh rain so relentlessly over the years. In fact, I’ve learned many things from this post, not least of which is that such an intricate interweaving of fruit trees is called a Belgian Fence. It’s presumably no accident that the magnificent pathways are cobbled in an identical pattern. And I do love the phrase ‘successional planting’. All in all, I know far more now than I did when I started reading your wonderful post.
Thank you, Charlie! There is in fact a ruined chapel of St Non nearby too. I had not been back to this spot for much too long. It was wild and very beautiful. Aberglasney is a wonderful garden to visit too: there is also a ‘Ninfarium’- inspired by the wonderful gardens of Ninfa made around castle ruins just outside Rome – a glass roof has been built over crumbling walls and is now a heady home to orchids and banana plants. Nonx