Tag Archives: Wildside

Originality – a rare quality

It is Sunday morning which means my thoughts have been focussed on the morning garden discussion with Tony Murrell on Radio Live Home and Garden Show. It is a little easier to be focussed at 7.45am than it used to be at our earlier time slot of 6.30am, even though we have less time now.  This morning the topic was originality in gardens. Is it over-hyped and how many truly original gardens have you seen?

I have seen a fair number of gardens now and met many gardeners who regard their own patch as showing great originality. While some show genuine creativity, that is different to originality. I only came up with four gardens that I have personally visited that I would describe as originals.

For most of us – and I include Mark and I in this – our gardens are a grab-bag of ideas from all over the place and from throughout history. The skills lie in how we reinterpret those ideas and make them our own. Some people don’t do even that. They just grab the ideas they have seen somewhere or read about and try and reproduce that at home. There is not much creativity in that.

Even Sissinghurst, that famous garden that has arguably had a greater influence on New Zealand domestic gardening than any other, is not an original. Hidcote was started 20 or 30 years before Sissinghurst and shows a similar approach to garden rooms in the Arts and Crafts genre. And if you go and look at the Moorish gardens of Andalusian Spain (the Alhambra is the most famous), you can see intimate garden rooms from a much earlier era.

One photo can not do justice to a large, complex garden

So which four gardens did I come up with that have struck me as genuinely original without clear influences from identifiable places or earlier times? Two are in New Zealand. Paloma, near Wanganui, is the creation of Clive and Nicki Higgie and it is remarkable. Unique, even, and I do not hand out that accolade lightly. Not only is there exceptional plantsmanship looking well into the future, and a very personal creativity bordering at times on the quirky, it is what I would call an original vision. I can not think of any other garden that is like Paloma.

The same goes for Grahame Dawson’s industrial chic garden on a small urban section in Mount Eden, Auckland. I have never seen anything like it, before or since. It is what I would call an original created with great flair and panache.

Overseas, Le Jardin Plume in Normandy (near, or near-ish, to Rouen) has stuck in my memory with great clarity. Other people have wave hedges but they tend to be of the undulating hummock style whereas Plume has these sharp-edged waves evocative of the sea breaking on the shoreline. The contrast with the loose plantings of tall, perennials is stark and effective. So too are their parterres of meadow an entirely new take on old forms. It is an innovative garden with some ideas that were completely fresh to us. Though, in the interests of accuracy, there were also areas which were not as unique.

It may come as no surprise to regular readers that I also chose Wildside as one of the few totally original gardens we have seen. Keith Wiley has entirely resculptured his landscape on a surprising scale to accommodate his plants by creating different microclimates and habitats. He would be one of the most exceptional plantsmen we have ever met but also with a passion for colour, texture and putting the plants together to create vibrant pictures. We have not seen another garden like it.

What all these four gardens have in common is that they are private owned and gardened with great passion, joy and commitment by their owners. They don’t have sole claim to those attributes but it is also allied to personal visions that are as close to individual and unique as I have seen. Many of us are craftspeople in our garden, at times with considerable skill, flair and the ability to put our own stamp of creativity on the ideas and visions we have in our heads and hearts as well as to push boundaries. But to a rare few is given the ability to come up with something entirely fresh and new. Maybe they are the ground-breaking artists? In their own quiet way, in the quiet space of their own garden at least. And that element of originality is not always comfortable for garden visitors.

Postscript thoughts:

I have not included sculpture gardens because in most cases, the garden is the venue for the dominant art, not a situation where the garden can stand on its own as showing original vision.

Nor have we visited the Garden of Cosmic Speculation or any of the Wirtz gardens. Landform as sculpture is a different aspect altogether and I haven’t seen enough to comment. I have seen one garden that took this approach in a naturalistic style and I have never forgotten it (years ago – read the fifth para down for a description). We usually seek out gardens that combine design with plantsmanship and working with nature to achieve beauty whereas it seems that landform gardens use the materials of nature to create sculptural form, often with minimal plant interest. When time is short, one has to set priorities in garden visiting.

Paloma is open by appointment and their website gives contact details. Grahame Dawson opens occasionally for the Heroic Festival in late summer but is not generally open. Le Jardin Plume and Wildside both have websites that detail their open days.






More naturalistic than wild at Wildside

Layer upon layer of plants in this complex but relaxed style of new naturalism

It was raining on the second last day of June when we visited Wildside Garden in Devon but this did not deter us. However, it did mean some of my photos have raindrops blurring out sections when I failed to check my lens. At least it was summer rain and neither cold nor windy. It was our second visit to see if the buzz we felt when we first saw it in 2014 was still there. It was. This is an exceptional garden in our eyes.

Keith and Ros Wiley had shut the garden for the past two years in order to start building their house and are still only open for very limited days but it is worth planning a trip around those days. It was interesting to see the way in which the building of the house gave a central heart to what is a private and very personal garden. But also, we knew we were looking at a situation where the owners’ energies had largely been going into the house in recent times. The garden hadn’t expanded physically into the remaining areas that had already been prepared when we visited in 2014.  It will happen at some stage, I am sure. The existing plantings had filled out and softened in the intervening time.

A plant collector is one for whom the thrill of acquisition and ownership of plants is an end in itself. A plantsperson is one who not only knows what plants are special, but also how to grow them and feature them to advantage. Sometimes a really good gardener is also a top plantsperson and they don’t come much better than Keith Wiley. He finds plants fascinating. He collects plants. He knows how to grow them well, even very difficult material. And he gardens with a huge range.

Wildside has been sculpted from a 4 acre, near flat paddock like this one next door

It is even more remarkable when you consider that Wiley started work with a near flat block of land. He has not only manipulated the contour to create a landscape of hills, hollows, banks and even the odd ravine, he has managed the depth of soil and its composition appropriate to the plants he wants to grow. From the start, his planning was to accommodate communities of plants – to create different ecosystems within the garden to enable growing a wide range of different plants.

Like an Impressionist painting

If you are not much interested in plants themselves, you can admire the scenes he composes These can be like Impressionist paintings though perhaps more Georges Seurat and pointillism than Monet. I am sure it is no coincidence that Ros Wiley is also a painter who prefers flowers and landscape as her subjects. But we are interested in the plants and plant combinations as well. Presumably Wiley has one of the most comprehensive collections of dieramas (angel’s fishing rods) around but they are used throughout and not all concentrated in one block, as “national collections” are usually displayed. We were in the wrong season for the erythroniums for which this garden is renowned but it also has extensive collections of different daphnes, cyclamen, Japanese maples, kniphofia, roscoeas, agapanthus and a host of other bulbs, perennials and smaller growing woody plants.

Dieramas or angels fishing rods in abundant quantities and many hues

There is next to no hard landscaping beyond deliberate placement of rocks and constructions of microclimates. Wiley is one of the early practitioners of the new naturalism gardening style, predicated on working in cooperative harmony with nature and creating eco-systems which are a refined version of many different, natural habitats. Do not confuse this with a wild garden which is left to its own devices. It is controlled but deceptively so, with a light hand.

We had been looking at the naturalistic prairie-style plantings around Olympic Park just a few days prior, greatly enjoying their simple charm. At Wildside, we felt that the Wileys were achieving a hugely detailed, complex and skilled variation of those Sheffield School plantings at Olympic Park, but still on the same spectrum of contemporary naturalism. It is no designer garden. It is a landscape created with sensitivity and top level plantsmanship.

It is also a garden that we will make the effort to keep returning to see. There aren’t many gardens that we have visited where both of us walk out feeling as if we have had an experience of joy. Wildside is one.

New Zealand cordylines in Devon

Raindrops keep falling on my camera lens…

If you want to see more of Wildside, I have posted the companion album to our Facebook page.


Wildside – the new naturalism in gardening

???????????????????????????????1) I want to try and capture the magic of a particular garden in a few words and photos. This is Wildside in North Devon and was quite simply one of the most exciting modern gardens we have seen. It is not that we will try and re-create it at home, but we found it interesting, stimulating and inspirational in many ways. It has been about 10 years in the making to this point.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????2) The creator, Keith Wiley (and let us acknowledge the active assistance from his partner, Ros) has taken a 4 acre (1.6ha) flat field and created a landscape. When he started, it looked identical to this neighbouring field. All the top soil was removed and substrata redistributed to create ponds, canyons, shallow valleys and hills. At this stage, it is still possible to see this process in the upper garden which has yet to be planted. Once shaped, Keith returned the top soil in varying depths, depending on what plants he planned to grow in each area.

???????????????????????????????3) The interaction between the created landforms and the plants are the key components of this garden. When we visited, the upper garden was dominated by oranges, golds, yellows and whites. We would love to have been able to return a few weeks later because we could see that the dominant colour was going to change to blue and it would have looked very different. It takes exceptional plant skill to be able to get that transition and successional planting across seasons, let alone within the same season.

???????????????????????????????4) These are dierama, commonly called Angel’s fishing rods, one of the few corms and bulbs that were in flower in midsummer but this was a garden which was rich in drifts of bulbs – another layer of plant interest and a means of ensuring colour and detail when most perennials are either dormant or resting. In keeping with the modern perennials movement, there were grasses used but in moderation. Plants were in good sized clumps and often in drifts, but always in combinations, not chunky blocks standing in their own right as seen in many modern gardens.

???????????????????????????????5) There is very little hard landscaping and very little ornamentation. There may have been one small lawn, from memory, but this is a garden of plants and flowers. Some may consider the lack of formality and structure to be a shortcoming, certainly in a country with a long history of landscaped gardens full of permanent features. We saw a garden that pushed the boundaries of the prairie style and New Perennials movement, combined with the creation of sustainable ecosystems, underpinned by exceptional plantsmanship.

???????????????????????????????6) We travelled a long way to visit Wildside which is on the edge of Dartmoor, near Yelverton, and we would gladly travel a long way to see it again. However, it is currently closed to the public and it is uncertain when it will reopen. The owner told us that he needed to get the house built. After a decade of living in temporary quarters while giving priority to the garden, they had reached the point where the house had become a priority.

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

???????????????????????????????Yes, a prologue. We first became aware of Keith Wiley’s style when we visited The Garden House in 2009 – the garden of the late Lionel Fortescue which Keith managed for many years. True, he had no hand in the first sight to gladden our eyes. As we went to enter the garden, lo and behold there was Mark’s very own Magnolia Felix Jury in prime position. To say we felt proud would be an understatement.
DSC00911 (Small)
But our enduring memory of The Garden House is the delightful Quarry Garden – which I wrote about at the time. We were also very taken by some of the wildflower areas and the naturalistic style. It was only after we had moved on from the area that we found out that this was Keith Wiley’s work and that he had branched out on his own garden a mere kilometer or two down the road. Had we known at the time, we would have taken our chances on seeing if we could have a look at his new project. It took us five years to get back and it exceeded all our expectations.

Don Quixote Gardens

 Te Popo is a cool climate, woodland garden on a large scale inland from Stratford with a romantic feel that I love.

Te Popo is a cool climate, woodland garden on a large scale inland from Stratford with a romantic feel that I love.

Only old friends know that the man to whom I am still married was once a rock and pop drummer. A teaching colleague of mine roped him into playing in the orchestra for two musicals. While Joseph will be forever referred to in this house as he of the “bloody technicoloured nightmare”, the magic of “Man of La Mancha” did not pall over time and has entered our personal lexicon. I have to explain this because it is the irrepressible optimism and personal vision, drive and conviction that we see in what we now refer to as Don Quixote gardens.

This is a syndrome I know well because I am married to one such gardener so I recognise it in others. Don Quixote gardens are grand visions but personal visions of an individual. Let us rule out immediately those gardens – and I have seen a few – where the owners have set out to create what they think will be an impressive garden in order to impress other people. That is status symbol gardening.

These are only half the columns at Paradise. The other half of the crescent is already wreathed in plants as a completed section of colonnade.

These are only half the columns at Paradise. The other half of the crescent is already wreathed in plants as a completed section of colonnade.

Don Quixote gardens are personal creations but on a bigger scale than most people contemplate, usually against the odds and without the corresponding budget that allows a small army of trained but subservient gardeners to follow in one’s wake. There is bravery, passion and a steadfast determination common to these garden creators. And a compulsive passion for both plants and landscape. Generally, Don Quixote gardeners would like it if you liked their garden, but they are not going to feel a failure if you don’t because they haven’t made it to impress you.

Let me give you a few examples. If you have ever been to ‘Paradise’, the extraordinary creation of Bob Cherry (assisted by Mrs Derelie Cherry) in New South Wales, you will know what I am talking about. It is an enormous garden, with some simply astounding brickwork and structure combined with a remarkable plant collection. Bob Cherry will be known to many New Zealanders as the originator of the Paradise sasanqua camellia range, but his plant knowledge and interest go well beyond this. As the saying goes, he has probably forgotten more about plants than others have ever known.

I think it unlikely that ‘Paradise’ will ever be finished. And I do not think that matters.

Paloma is unique amongst New Zealand gardens in design, plant content and genuine creativity, aided the boundless energy of its owners

Paloma is unique amongst New Zealand gardens in design, plant content and genuine creativity, aided the boundless energy of its owners

Closer to home, it is far too many years since we last visited Trelinnoe, the garden built by John and Fiona Wills near Napier but I think that probably fits the Don Quixote genre. Paloma, the extraordinary garden of Clive and Nicki Higgie near Wanganui is another. One of my favourite Taranaki gardens is the woodland garden of Te Popo – the work of Lorri and Bruce Ellis. It is big. It is soft-edged rather than tightly manicured but maintained to a very high standard without a big budget and primarily as a result the owners’ personal passion for the place and Lorri’s willingness to spend every day in the garden.

These are not places where the owner says airily: “We don’t want to be slaves to the garden. It only takes us about two hours a week to maintain.” Don Quixote gardens are created by people who would rather be in their garden than anywhere else.

Wildside in North Devon was different to any garden that we have seen and we were quite simply entranced

Wildside in North Devon was different to any garden that we have seen and we were quite simply entranced

I have mentioned before the inspiration we gained from visiting Wildside in North Devon but I have yet to write about it in detail. Sometimes it takes time to mentally process an experience. This was another such garden, and the garden owner, Keith Wiley is a splendid latter day Don Quixote. He took an almost flat cropping field and created a landscape. The scale of the earthworks involved in sculpting the land is difficult to comprehend but he created a rise and fall of more than twelve metres before he even started planting. It is a work in progress by a man who is not only possessed of huge energy and vision, but also a pre-eminent plantsman. I did laugh when he told us his artist wife had drawn a line of demarcation beyond which she would not garden. Any additional area beyond that line, he is to manage on his own. He will, I am sure.

Truth be told, these are not Don Quixote gardens, so much as Don Quixote gardeners, characterised by heroic visions backed by hard graft and above average knowledge – well above in some cases. These are people who will never say “my garden is full” or “my garden is finished” for, should that stage be reached, one might as well be dead. These Don Quixote gardens are about as far as one get from an urban courtyard, a contemporary designer look or a suburban back yard. They are not for the faint hearted or the uncommitted gardener.

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