Capturing the spirit of the garden… in 500 words?


We are frequently asked to provide some words about the garden. It always proves tricky. How to convey the essence of the experience in, quite often, very few words? Sometimes we are asked to provide a photograph of the garden. One photograph?

Having just provided something for a specific purpose and feeling dissatisfied with the end product, due to ruthless editing and, let’s be honest, differences of opinions amongst the ‘editorial team’ about what actually is important and significant and truly reflects the spirit of the garden, here’s a very personal edit of the full version and an elaboration of the edit…

Nant y Bedd is a very special 10 acres of organic garden, forest, river and pasture which truly blends into its surrounding landscape, making an already sizeable garden feel even bigger.  The garden nestles in the forested Grwyne Fawr valley at 1200 feet up in the Black Mountains of Wales. Crafted over 40 years the garden stretches up the hill into the forest and slopes gently down to the Grwyne Fawr river.  It is difficult to see where garden ends and wild begins, so well does it sit within its landscape. 

Foxgloves and Sweet rocket in the Forest Fruit garden amongst asparagus ferns in early Summer

It is this naturalness that makes Nant y Bedd so beloved by so many people, be they garden professionals or simply garden lovers.  Not for Sue the stripy lawns and regimented beds of so many gardens.  Here wildflowers – weeds to some – combine with vegetables and fruit trees, unusual varieties sit happily alongside age-old favourites, plants for pollinators abound and seed heads are left for the birds.  A forager’s, florist’s and photographer’s haven.

Weeds’ in the Onion beds

Sustainability, often an over-used word, really comes to the fore at Nant y Bedd.  Not for Sue bought-in compost and potting mixes, she makes all of her own, with compost bins constantly supplying a rich, friable product. Seeds are saved and resown in subsequent years, hazel from the riverside is coppiced to support runner beans and peas, and skips are raided for old windows to make cold-frames.  Electricity from the micro-hydro on the stream powers the heated propagator. Gardening with a light carbon footprint.

Sustainability, light carbon footprint, bee-friendly planting (Rosebay willlowherb is an excellent pollinator attracting plant), saving seed from lettuce in a re-purposed copper (slug-prevention) bowl (ex-domestic hot water tank)

The Potager is described by award-winning garden designer Sarah Price as “through an unassuming wooden gate, we step into a sunlit clearing – and as if into another world. Wild wayside flowers – purple spires of toadflax, orange poppies and acid yellow parsnip flowers – wrestle with broad beans, hops and climbing peas.”   This is potager gardening Nant y Bedd style. 

The Potager in Spring

Other gems include a rope bridge across the stream on the way to a glorious natural swimming pond, where Sue and Ian swim with tadpoles, newts and inquisitive dragonflies, whilst surrounded by native water lilies, purple loosestrife and other native water plants.

Natural swimming pond

A treehouse, cocooned in an ancient Sycamore, looks down on the Grwyne Fawr river, an Special Area of Conservation (SAC) designated for salmon and otter.  Over another  bridge and, in spring, a bluebell fringed walk along the river leads one in to the spooky forest, with sheep skulls among the trees to keep younger visitors entertained. 

The treehouse

Around the house are the Forest Fruit Garden where a Schezuan Peppercorn tree vies with honeyberries, tea bushes, blueberries and wild raspberries, whilst the Cottage Garden abounds with colour all year round and never a piece of bare soil to be seen. 

Cottage Garden brimming with pollinator-friendly flowers and herbs

What started life 40 years ago as a simple country garden has turned into something much more interesting, ‘quirky and confident‘.

Sometimes our visitors can express it better than we can.

Alison Jenkins, garden designer. ‘I came to the garden during Gardens in the Wild with Hannah Gardner and Claire Abery which I guess was about 3 years ago, in June I think.   We all really loved the garden.  It felt really relaxed into itself and you could feel that it had evolved organically over time.  It just had a really special atmosphere.  I especially remember the bed of flowering ground elder, the stunning swimming pond and the wonderful looseness of the vegetable garden.  It felt quite quirky and confident, you could tell that it was in expert hands which knew when to bend the rules’.  (September 2020)

Flowering ground elder. Beautiful, pollinator-friendly and edible. Leading to the rope bridge and the pond.

2 Comments on “Capturing the spirit of the garden… in 500 words?

    • Thank you Hannah. Look forward to being able to welcome you back! I have to say putting the piece together with the photos of the garden in Spring and Summer lifted the spirits on another rather wet and gloomy February day. It will look like that again…

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