Topiary at Allt-y-bela was stunning.

An Exchange of Views

What happens when two opinionated garden makers visit the garden of a Chelsea award-winning garden designer?

Last month, Anne Wareham, Charles Hawes and I visited Allt-y-bela, the home of Arne Maynard, an author and prominent UK garden designer.  We spent several hours wandering around the impressive garden, located in Monmouthshire, Wales; Anne and I spent even more time several weeks later exchanging ideas and responses to what we had seen.

Along with running her own garden, Veddw,  (in case you missed my review of Veddw, you can read it here), Anne edits the internationally read on-line garden magazine ThinkinGardens. This week she has published our correspondence about Allt-y-bela.

 

Topiary at Allt-y-bela was stunning.
Topiary at Allt-y-bela was stunning in concept and design. The quality of the maintenance made it even more impressive.

 

As Anne mentions in her introduction to the piece, our responses to the garden raised a number of interesting questions. What is the affect of visiting a garden along with the person who has made it? Does it add to or subtract from the experience? What about history? Is it important to bring that into the design of the garden?  And what are the pros and cons of stage managed gardens?

You can read our exchange here.

And after you read it, I hope you will take a moment to reflect on the issues… and then to let us know what you think.

I welcome your views on the questions we raise and on any others that our exchange of views may prompt. You can respond here or on ThinkinGardens, or in any way that suits your fancy.

  • Cindy at enclos*ure

    I was looking at Maynard’s website this morning and learned that he runs a gardening and garden design course at Alte-y-bela, which may help explain the excellent maintenance and its somewhat impersonal quality. Maybe it was always a place for trying out certain ideas.

    • siteandinsight

      You are probably right, Cindy, I think the staff was preparing for some kind of event. You may also be onto something about a place to try out ideas. Yesterday I met to someone who had stayed at Allt-y-bela for three days a few years ago; she said Arne was friendliness itself so once again I wonder if it was his absence that made the garden feel impersonal.

      • Cindy at enclos*ure

        I actually thought about this when you posted a critique of Robert Dash’s Madoo. It occurred to me that he (Dash) may have approached Madoo as more of studio for working ideas than as a coherent family garden (even though he did live there). That might explain the construction issues and that some areas were so much stronger than others. (And when he still lived there, visitors were partly carried away on his passion.)

        At any rate, what fun to spend time at Alte-y-belle (what were the interiors like?) and with Anne.

        • siteandinsight

          The event at Madoo really irritated me. I felt like I was there on sufferance while others were there legitimately. More important, though, was Madoo a studio for working out ideas? Is Allt-y-bela? Possibly. I truly don’t know.

          As for interiors: the kitchen and dining room were nicely dim. Well furnished without being overly decorated. My bedroom was spacious and very nicely turned out. The bath tub was bliss… always an important factor for me.

  • Jason

    Well, I love the color of the house. I’ve tried to convince Judy to paint our house yellow but she won’t go for it. I would argue that visiting a garden with the gardener generally enhances the experience. You get to see it through the gardener’s eyes, understand better the thinking that underlay the choices made. That doesn’t mean you will like the garden, but you will be able to see it more fully. Finally, I also prefer gardens that are looser and more spontaneous, too much perfection seems regimented.

    • siteandinsight

      We share a point of view, Jason. The idea that a garden exists in isolation, separate from the person/people who made it, is not a notion that sits well with me. I need to understand the thinking behind the garden to be able to asses it on its own terms.

  • Jean Potuchek

    Pat, I found your discussion with Anne very interesting. My reading of it was surely influenced by my reading of Larry Weaner’s Garden Revolution, which I just finished a few days ago. He talks about garden as composition vs. garden as process. It sounds as though both you and Anne found this garden to be too much of a composition, with all evidence of plants as living, changing beings-in-process erased.

    • siteandinsight

      Garden as composition vs process: interesting opposition. Spectacle vs experience is another dichotomy, and I’m not sure I agree with either. I don’t know that the terms are mutually exclusive.

      • Jean Potuchek

        Perhaps it would be better to think of composition/process not as an opposition or dichotomy, but as a tension. The trick is to get the balance right.