We visited Veddw at the weekend, the Monmouthshire garden created by Anne Wareham and her photographer husband Charles Hawes.
I have to say that I didn’t want to visit almost as much as I did. I first read about Veddw a year or so ago and was intrigued but I was put off visiting as I read a comment rightly or wrongly attributed that said that Ms Wareham has a very jaded view of people who visit her garden so I thought well, I’m not visiting if you don’t want me there! So I didn't go.
However, Veddw is only 5 miles from home, others have described it to me as inspirational and after reading more about it in the book Discovering Welsh Gardens I decided that Sunday was the day to be inspired.
I am always worried when I decide to visit an open garden, fearing that I am going to find a grand stately pile being shown off with well meaning but unaware visitors who would dismiss out of hand my worries around accessibility and inclusivity if I tried to raise them. For this reason I avoid NGS gardens even although I sometimes would like to look. it just makes me feel too uncomfortable.
So it was with some trepidation that I approached my visit to the Veddw. The first thing we saw was a sign on the gate telling us not to bother if we had a problem with weeds. H visibly brightened stating "ha! oddball - good!" and marched purposefully through the gate. No deterrent there then. Once in the garden I was hugely reassured by the house - it's just a house and in respect of the garden and the garden visitors its of absolutely no account, not a stately pile, not on show, quite the opposite, a cottage typical of the area, like our own house and private - you're here to see the garden. Just the garden. I like that a lot. I equally like the transparency and honesty of the contract between visitor and owner, the garden is opened to pay for its up keep, come, pay, look, then go away; no tweeness which is very refreshing indeed. The next positive is the freedom; you've come, so look around, explore. When we paid Anne our entrance fee I asked if there was anywhere we shouldn’t go and she seemed puzzled and amused by my question – seeming to ask why would there be anywhere that’s off limits? It is certainly a garden made for exploring, for hiding and dreaming in, full of quiet corners, secret pathways and small rooms each with its own atmosphere and character, a small child’s ideal magic garden full of adventures and dens and places to play imaginary games.
The handout given to visitors states that visitors who understand the Veddw are welcome. Do I understand? Only the owners can say whether my perceptions and thoughts match their own, so its impossible to judge my level of actual understanding - but I know what I think which is what I will share here.
At the Garden in Rainy Valley we are trying to do several things in a very minor way - support wildlife, make the garden be at one with its environment, and take the garden back to a point where it acknowledges its own history. I think that Veddw works towards at least two of these aims overtly and one by natural consequence if not by wholehearted intention.
Veddw must support wildlife, the garden was alive with bees when we visited, but I'm not clear whether or not it's meant to particularly, I don't think it's why it's there, if that makes any sense.
Veddw sucks its environment in and throws it back out again. huge sweeping beech hedges echo the hills, small box hedge parterre are a parody of the fields. history is acknowledged in the parterres, the artful reconstruction of a ruined cottage complete with excavated "artefacts" displayed “Wittgenstein's grave" style in a heap atop a stone wall, and in the veggie patch that is no longer (a veggie patch).
The garden is built in a bowl and wherever you stand the unapologetic structures within the garden have the mirror image of the local environment as a backdrop. the effect is really quite breath taking, and walking into Veddw across a ridge above the garden you do exactly what I think the designer intended, you stand and stare as the garden rolls out below you, a patch work of ideas and symbolism that forces you to think. Is it a wild garden? An adaptation of a formal classical design, in parts Greek or Roman or is it simply a mad incredible wonderful imaginary place bought to life?
There are things that I don’t like, but as with anything visual its so personal that others will love them so they hardly merit comment except possibly the formal pool with its black dyed water to create a sharp mirror image - clever idea, but I find the opaque black water sinister. Not for me.
Even on a short visit it becomes apparent that this is a garden that will support multiple visits as you just don’t see everything at once and the approach to the planting – big, mad, wild swathes of single variety seasonal rumbustiousness means that nothing will ever be the same twice. This isn’t a garden tamed into a manicured chocolate box image that will be pin perfect and the same year after year - its alive in a way so many large formal gardens are not.
So, do I understand? - I haven't a clue. Do I appreciate the visual impact of what I found - absolutely, and I'm glad I've had the opportunity to look. So I'm sorry Anne, I know I committed the sin of telling you your garden was beautiful, but it is, and you're just going to have to live with it!
Anne Wareham blogs about Veddw at http://veddw.com/blog/anne-warehams-garden-blog/ and