Tag Archives: Veddw

New Wave Hedging

Le Jardin Plume – a modern garden near Rouen in Normandy

Green walls. Or hedges as they are usually called. We were amazed at the tightly clipped, breaking wave hedges at Le Jardin Plume in France, having never seen anything quite like it. They contain the feather garden for which the entire property is named and as such, perform both a practical and aesthetic function. On that practical level, they shelter the very large perennials which could otherwise be beaten down by summer thunderstorms and, presumably, winds sweeping across the flat landscape. And the tight clipping and distinctive form are a complete contrast to the dynamic waves of grasses and tall, slender perennials.

In the same garden the green walls in le jardin d’ été (the summer garden) are less unusual but still performing the dual function of both restraining and protecting extravagantly loose plantings while providing a sharp contrast in style. The hedges are the structure and form within the garden.

Veddw – a garden in Monmouthshire in the Welsh borderlands

We visited another heavily hedged garden in this northern summer just passed. Veddw is in the Welsh borderlands and the owners have used hedging throughout to create the form and structure they were after. In one of the hedged enclosures, they have done a gentler take on rounded shapes,  evocative of their wider landscape of rolling hills. It is a sculptural approach where the interest lies in the shapes and reflections in the black pool, not in the plants themselves.

Veddw again. A garden defined by hedges

Most of these northern hedges are buxus, yew or beech. In New Zealand, we are generally less favourable towards beech because it is deciduous. Yew is deadly poisonous to stock and also does far better in drier climate than our high rainfall and humidity of Taranaki which tends to kill it off with root disease. Which leaves buxus, now much afflicted by the dreaded blight in many gardens.

Tikorangi – the view in September of a Fairy Blush hedge and the historic totara hedge

Our personal preference is for flowering hedges. Indeed, we pulled out a well-established and perfectly healthy buxus hedge to replace it with Camellia transnokoensis. It is all to do with winter blooming – the single camellia flowers provide pollen and nectar at a time when there are few other sources of this food. Our favourite camellia for clipped hedging is ‘Fairy Blush’, partly because it is our cultivar and the first camellia Mark ever named. It is also scented with the longest flowering time of any camellia we grow, coming out with the sasanquas in autumn and flowering right through to spring.

The aforementioned C. transnokoensis has a shorter flowering season but attractive dark foliage and small, pure white blooms. The third camellia we have made extensive use of for hedging is C. microphylla, even though it flowers earlier in autumn – pure white flowers again and small leaves that clip well. Both these two species set seed. If you can find them growing, you may well find seedlings germinated around their base. Or check for seed in autumn if you are a patient gardener who is willing to put a bit of effort into a free hedge.

All our hedges are flat topped affairs, lacking the panache of both Le Jardin Plume and Veddw but I am eyeing up a somewhat redundant length of buxus hedging and wondering about reshaping it to an undulating caterpillar.

 

I have been told that New Zealand features more hedges per average garden than most other countries. This may be to do with our being a windy country. Equally, it may be that plants are relatively cheap here and require less capital outlay than building a wall in more permanent materials. However, what may have started from pragmatic origins is a far more environmentally friendly option these days. My advice is to pick a hedging option that will only require clipping once or twice a year and if you are going to be adventurous with the plant selection, do some research first. Hedges need to be from plants that will grow back from bare wood and some less common selections like miro (instead of yew) and Magnolia laevifolia (formerly Michelia yunnanensis) can take a fair number of years before they achieve the dense appearance of a hedge.

We are pretty proud of our remaining length of totara hedge, planted around the turn of last century by Mark’s grandfather or great grandfather and kept clipped for nigh on 120 years.

First published in the September issue of NZ Gardener – my penultimate or maybe final column for this magazine. 

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The Bad Tempered Gardener from the Welsh borderlands

Veddw, the garden of Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes (photo copyright Charles Hawes)

Veddw, the garden of Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes (photo copyright Charles Hawes)

Anne Wareham (photo credit Charles Hawes)

Anne Wareham (photo credit Charles Hawes)

Anne Wareham had my attention from the first page of her book, bravely titled “The Bad Tempered Gardener”. Her second sentence opens:

I have to make my way in a world which is totally alien to me. A world where people are inevitably passionate, always ‘green’ and always terribly concerned about the little furry things….

She continues:

I began to get tired of hearing every garden described as ‘lovely’. I visited many of them and often found them to be banal and uninspired. I began to wish for writers who would tell the truth about the gardens and gardening and found only ‘garden stories’ and discussions of gardening techniques…. The problem is the fond idea that gardening is inevitably nice but dull…. ”

What is interesting about Anne Wareham’s work is that this is contemporary thinking about gardening from a hands-on perspective. I have also been reading Vita Sackville West’s collated newspaper columns from the early 1950s. She is renowned for creating the garden at Sissinghurst. There has been a proud tradition of garden writing by gardeners – Russell Page, Beth Chatto, Penelope Hobhouse and other great names, particularly in the world of English gardening. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are all either elderly or dead. Where is the current thinking?

Garden writing at this time seems to fall into three categories. There are academic treatises out of institutions where gardening has been hijacked by higher status landscape design. Then there are all the novice wannabe books which are of no interest at all to the serious gardener. All that breathless naivety and ingenuous enthusiasm wears very thin if you are not in the target demographic. The rest tends to be either prosaic description or praise in purple prose. There is no attempt at critique and very little in the way of ideas.

Apparently it is the same in the UK though I did think that the writer of the BBC Gardening Blog was guilty of gross hyperbole when he or she babbled of this book that: “Everyone, but everyone has been talking about possibly the most controversial book ever written about gardening.” It is not that radical and actually slots quite nicely into the tradition of garden writing. It is thought provoking and a breath of fresh air.

That said, it is not highly polished and the forty five chapters stand independently, almost as if they are a collation of pieces published previously, though there is no reference to this being the case. So there is not a cohesive argument but more a case of recurring themes. What I can tell about this book is that there is a great deal of thinking time that has gone into formulating the ideas and opinions. The author has two acres of intensive garden which she started from scratch and two acres of woodland which she maintains with her husband. Much of gardening is repetitive and takes little concentration so there is a lot of solitary thinking time. It takes one to know one. It is how I operate so I recognise it in someone else. And I have never before read a book where I have so often felt as if I was in conversation with the author. I kept wanting to say: “Exactly. I wrote about this very thing here.” Whether it is water maintenance, show gardens, rose gardens, scented plants, the impact of devaluing the garden visit experience by bringing it under the amateur and charitable banner, the hyperbole of garden descriptions – this is all familiar territory.

The Bad Tempered Gardener by Anne Wareham

The Bad Tempered Gardener by Anne Wareham

Thought provoking chapters are interspersed with short pieces on plants. These have little relevance in New Zealand. Erigeron is that highly invasive daisy that is actually on the banned list here. Tulip mania has never struck this country in the European manner (to buy fresh bulbs every season seems profligate). Alchemilla mollis is not the easy, frothy plant here that it is in the UK. These are just little interludes, breathing spaces, between the more opinionated pieces. Of interest are the chapters on the creation of her own garden, Veddw, on the Welsh border and the principles which drove her in design and plant selection. We are not in agreement on plants, but that is fine. To disagree with a well thought out and strongly held position challenges one’s own thinking.

Best guess is that the author has cultivated a certain prickly persona. I doubt very much that she is inherently any more bad tempered than the rest of us. The title of her book is probably as much a nod to the late Christoper Lloyd (he of Great Dixter fame) with his book titled “The Well-Tempered Garden” and maybe to Germaine Greer. Readers here may not be aware of the latter’s enthusiasm for gardening. She wrote a newspaper column under the pseudonym of Rose Blight and a collation of these were released in book form under the title of “The Revolting Gardener”.
Indeed, I am wondering about extending the theme with my own book – “The Opinionated Gardener”. Don’t hold your breath, however. I am unlikely to find a publisher any time soon.

I sourced my copy through Amazon though Touchwood Books or good bookshops will be able to order it in. As far as I know it is not on the shelves in this country.

The Bad Tempered Gardener by Anne Wareham. Photographs by Charles Hawes. (Frances Lincoln Ltd; ISBN: 978 0 7112 3150 4).

The reflecting pool at Veddw (instructions are in the book). Photo credit: copyright Charles Hawes

The reflecting pool at Veddw (instructions are in the book). Photo credit: copyright Charles Hawes

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.