A path of exploration
Unveiling the beauty and meaning behind art and gardens


My Favourite Gardens: Veddw

May 31st, 2021 | 6 Comments »

Why do some gardens appeal to us while others leave us cold or indifferent? Is it something in us, in the garden, or in the interaction between the two?

Veddw is a garden in Wales, created over the last 33 years by Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. It is a garden that touches me deeply, and I’ve spent many hours examining my memory and the photos I’ve taken there trying to understand why. I know that the connection between the site and its history is one reason. Acknowledging and highlighting that type of connection shapes the garden at Glen Villa, so it is possible that ‘like likes like’ is the only reason. But I know there is more.

Veddw has an extraordinarily strong sense of place. It’s memorable. It’s a garden that engages visitors and prompts strong reactions, whether positive or negative. It is distinctive, with designs, plants and structures that differentiate it from other good gardens created in recent years.  But still there is more.

I’m particularly attracted by the sinuous hedges that wow you when you first enter the garden. Thank goodness there is a bench where I could sit comfortably and take the time I needed to grasp the complexity of the arrangement before me.


Veddw (5 of 22)
Talk about theme and variation! This outlook shows that in spades.


I’ve used this image from the entry to Veddw many times in a talk I give called Learning to Look: the Art of Garden Observation. For me, it illustrates how important it is to give yourself time to appreciate what is in front of you. Only by doing that and then, later, by spending time looking at the photograph, did I discover the complexities of the design, how the theme ‘hedge’ is introduced and varied: scalloped-topped hedges backed by square-topped hedges, cones in the foreground echoed by square columns in the distance, arches echoing scallops, and all enlivened by shades of green varied with touches of maroon and rust.

In 2017, after an extended visit, I wrote that Veddw is “a garden of a different sort”. What did I mean by those words. Original? Unconventional? Bold? Veddw is all of these, and more.

While the atmosphere of the garden varies considerably from one section to the next, there is a unity of purpose, an authenticity and a feeling of integrity that holds the disparate parts together. The garden is unconventional, to be sure, and in this way it reflects its creators, a couple who left jobs and a secure life in the city to make a garden for themselves. But while it is unconventional, it doesn’t reject convention entirely. Instead at Veddw, familiar ideas receive a distinctive twist.

Take garden rooms, for example. They are a commonplace in many English gardens and at Veddw there are garden rooms aplenty. Those on the hillside are outlined and separated by hedges, but each room appears to be a different size or shape, and different plants give each one its own  character.


Veddw (11 of 22)


Close to the house a garden room is divided in four squares centred on a handsome dish filled with water that sits on an equally handsome squared-off pedestal. But instead of one room, are there four, each delineated with a ‘wall’ of rails painted black?


room (1 of 1)


Garden allées are another common garden feature and at Veddw there are several. One allée is defined by high hedges that create a narrow, almost claustrophobic, path.


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A white bird acts as the obligatory focal point for this allée. The bird features prominently in other areas in the garden as well.


Another is open-sided, with a mown path flanked by mirrored globes. The posts, squared and angled like the post that holds the dish of water, are arranged in pairs but the pairs don’t match. Instead they vary in height, not getting shorter in a predictable way to make the distance seem longer, but ordered randomly, encouraging the eye to skip down the path.


globe allée (1 of 1)
This photograph was taken by Charles Hawes and is used with his permission.


Veddw is full of contradictions. It is open to its surroundings and closed off from them. On my last visit, I felt immersed in the dense plantings.  While occasionally I caught a glimpse of the surrounding countryside, more often my view was limited by a hedge or a fence …


I like this simple fence. Made of inexpensive materials, it nonetheless looks sculptural, almost like a city skyline or rolling hills.
I like this simple fence. It’s made of inexpensive materials, yet looks sculptural, almost like a city skyline or a range of rolling hills.


… or an exuberance of plants.


Do the
Do the fields in the distance count as borrowed view?  They can easily be seen as part of the garden.


When a paths that wanders through the maze of hedges appears to be blocked, words appear, offering a way out through a door in the mind.


Cut into the stone are words from T. S. Eliot's 'Four Quartets.'
Cut into the stone are words from T. S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets.’


Unlike more conventional gardens where words are rarely used, words at Veddw are scattered throughout, and their presence invites other times and places to enter. Words on the bench at the entry offer different spellings of the garden’s name, making the past they bring to mind a part of the present.


Veddw (22 of 22)


The (grave)stones almost buried under perennial blooms do the same.


stone (1 of 1)


Tintern Abbey is close to Veddw and a bench at the edge of the woods quotes lines from Wordsworth’s poem, Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.


Veddw (18 of 22)


“Sportive wood run wild:” this could almost describe Veddw itself. It teeters on the edge of wildness, not at all like the well-mannered gardens of England’s Home Counties. Veddw feels closer to anarchy, or to a chaos barely contained. For me, this is one of its pleasures: to see the beauty in an untidy nature.

Wordsworth wrote that the “wild secluded scene” around Tintern Abbey led to “thoughts of more deep seclusion” that “connect the landscape with the quiet of the sky.”

This is what the reflecting pools at Veddw do — they pull the sky down to the ground.


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One of the pools seems to pull the sky down even farther, drowning it under the water to create an intriguing sense of mystery.


Veddw (1 of 22)


That sense of exploring the unknown permeates Veddw. Unlike the many English gardens centered around aesthetics, Veddw centres itself on ideas. It is set off from the world, yet connected to it through allusions that extend its boundaries to the worlds of literature and art. It’s a garden that knows who it is and what it wants to be: a work of art that goes beyond what can be seen, touched, smelled or heard.

No wonder that it’s one of my favourites.

My Favourite Gardens: Villa Lante

April 22nd, 2021 | 14 Comments »
This fountain stands in the wooded area that once formed part of the garden.
Yesterday I gave an on-line talk about Glen Villa to a group of well-informed, well-educated women, many of whom attended the same single sex college I attended years ago. (What used to be Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia is now the co-ed Randolph College.) In the question period afterwards someone asked if I had a favourite garden. It took me only a moment to respond. Not one, I said, but several. I named four or five gardens, and today as I think back, I am struck by  how different those gardens are


Trees in the Garden

April 5th, 2021 | 2 Comments »
Autumn colour is more intense some years than others.
Trees are an invaluable part of a garden, so important that they are sometimes called its bones because they hold the other parts of the garden together. They are slow to grow and consequently are often the first thing planted in a new garden or one undergoing renovation. Trees do more than hold a garden together, though. They are miracle workers, cleaning the air, providing protection against wind and rain, focusing our view and, in northern regions at least, providing splendid colour in the fall.     At Glen Villa, they add privacy to a picnic


Borders, Boundaries and Beds

March 21st, 2021 | 4 Comments »
This crumbling stone wall once separated two farm fields at Glen Villa.
One year ago, almost to the day, the border between Canada and the U.S. closed. The closing didn't end all movement back and forth but for all practical purposes, for most of us it put an end to easy crossings. Today, no one knows when the border will re-open, and wondering about that unknown date set me thinking about borders and boundaries as they relate to gardens and landscapes. What is the difference between a border and a boundary, and what impact, if any, does a verbal distinction make on the ground? Thinking


The Value of Criticism

February 22nd, 2021 | 6 Comments »
Many people walking the trail ignored the sign pointing to Mythos and continued along the main trail.
Recently an article titled "Gardens Need Criticism" was posted on the garden website Veddw. Written by Veddw's garden maker Anne Wareham and originally published in Garden Design Journal in 2002, the article prompted me to think about the art of critiquing gardens and the art of receiving critiques. Last year a well-informed group of landscape architects and designers visited Glen Villa. I invited comments, and at the end of the visit one person quietly made a suggestion about a section of Timelines, the trail I've been working on for the last few years. His comment concerned


The Past as Prelude

February 1st, 2021 | 1 Comment »
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The great English landscape architect Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe got it right. What's past is past. But while it is over and done with, the past can't be ignored. Instead, Jellicoe said, we should "ponder on the past not as the past but as a pointer to the future." In troubled political times, this sounds like good advice.  It's equally good advice when applied to the land. When I began to work on the garden at Glen Villa some twenty years ago, history was the principle that guided me and it continues to be a powerful element,


Goals and Resolutions

January 7th, 2021 | 10 Comments »
Chinook Sunrise is from the  Canadian-developed 49th Parallel series of roses.
In January last year, I laid out six garden goals for the year ahead, never believing I'd be able to achieve them all. I put them on paper nonetheless to give myself something to aim for and, to my surprise, I find that over the last twelve months I completed five of the six. This may be due to Covid-related restrictions that kept me closer to home, or it may be because I was intent on using the time well, but regardless of why, I'm pleased with what I managed to do. So, what


Ruins and Recoveries

December 30th, 2020 | 7 Comments »
A triumphal arch, Roman style, was part of the landscape at Painshill, an early 18th century garden in England.
What can we say about 2020? Queen Elizabeth's Annus Horribilis comes to mind. So does the subject of ruin -- personal and business ruin, political ruin and the final ruin, death, which came this year for hundreds of thousands of people, more than we imagined possible when the pandemic began. But, Janus-like, ruins have a positive as well as a negative face. It may seem contradictory but history and the evidence of my own eyes tell me that to contemplate ruins is to contemplate the future as well as the past.


Tree Hugging for Tree Huggers

December 21st, 2020 | 16 Comments »
Seen at the botanical garden in Sydney, Australia
Do you know when the phrase 'tree hugger' was coined? I didn't, so I looked it up. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of the term dates from 1965. Other words coined that year: jet lag, mini dress, pop art, teach-in, doo-wop and time traveller. Reading these words, I felt like a time traveller myself. In part this is because those words are so familiar now but also because the connotations of 'tree hugger' have changed so much. In 1965,  tree hugger was a derogatory term. Not so today.


Continuum, Continued

November 23rd, 2020 | 4 Comments »
untitled (7 of 7)
Over the last few weeks, while the weather was remarkably kind, I've continued to work on an extension to Timelines, the trail that explores ideas about memory, history and our relationship to the land. I wrote about the initial work on Continuum in my last blog post, almost a month ago.  Since then, lots has happened. We added a wonderful tree trunk bench alongside the stream, right next to the old lid from a sap bucket that was used, who knows how many years ago, when maple syrup was being made at Orin's Sugarcamp.