Monday, September 14, 2009

Arts and Crafts Gardens in Gwent

Had a wonderful weekend in Gwent with the Garden History Society, an inpulse when I found a link to their excellent website which answered a horticultural query I had googled. A fine drive early on the A40, leaving Oxford by moonset: a huge pale orb descending in front of me as I drove west. Fine views over Birdlip, then I wound through the Forest of Dean to Monmouth, then checked in to a Old Hendre farm, a B&B high in the hills above the town, then navigated – oldstyle using real maps, I can’t be doing with those mental-nurse-voiced Tomtoms – to Clytha Park. Not much in the way of flowers, but a lovely lake and high on the hill ‘Clytha Castle’, a splendid folly (NT/Landmark Trust] looking over the hills and far away – a magnificent [if necessarily best-selling] writer’s retreat.
Next we visited Raglan Castle, which had once sported a magnificent terraced pleasure grounds complete with huge lake; Liz Whittle mapped its invisible shadows with the enthusiasm of the aficionado – she dreams of a restoration.
Then to High Gwynau, where Helena Gerrish gave us a beautifully constructed talk on Avray Tipping, who’d lived there and designed its garden; she also showed the transformation they’d effected on the gardens since they came 7 years ago. We wandered around its borders and greenhouses [succulent grapes] and down to the deep heart beat of the ancient ram pump at the bottom of the valley in front of the house – Tipping and his architect Eric Francia had a genius for making the most of a place. We had supper there, and much good talk, and I found a fine passage for my anthology in Helena’s collection of Tipping’s books: ‘We have become a nation of gardeners’.

The next day we moved to the environs of Chepstow and the extraordinary gardens and Pulhamite stone grottoes of Dewstow – created by Henry Oakley in the 1890s, cemented over into a farmyard by the tenants of his successor and lovingly recreated by those tenants' descendants – who have made a decent profit from their two golf courses - today. Much faithful restoration, but also many sparks of independent spirit.

So to the most atmospheric of all – Wingfield [check] court – another Avray Tipping house, with a distant view of the Severn estuary.
 Its owner died a few years ago, and it is being restored by the relation who intherited it, with a view to his 12 year old son living there one day. The boy has apparently got decided views on it already. A very friendly and welcoming chatelaine showed us round – she kenw her plants wonderfully well. Amazing that one gardener now keeps it going.

Next to perhaps the msot inspiring – because so many inexpensive and doable ideas – garden of all – The Feddrw, also very close to Chepstow. Established 25 years or so ago by squatters rights, and now a wonderfully rambling place of exciting plantings, maze like hedges and a black-dyed pool. Website see thinkinggarden

So home on a lovely road along the west side of the Severn, admiring Newnham, namesake of my alma mater – wonder if there is any connection – I ought to know – and stretching my legs at the unexpected little port of Lynmouth; steepest and deepest lock into the Severn that I have ever seen; surreally quiet yacht basin high above the then very low river. And a William Sugg gaslight on its lamp-post – happy memoires of writing Mangle to Microwave and discovering the chatty and informative catalogues of William Sugg and his daughter.

I can recommend the Garden History Society – deeply knowledgeable and very friendly people.

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