Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Head Space

We recently headed back to St. Davids, a place where it's possible to feel pleasantly shut off from the world. Work this year has been heavy and intense, and now, with the autumn and all of it's challenges upon us, we left Bex to keep the business ticking over for a week while we rested up a while.

It was just after the kids went back to school after the summer holidays, and so the entire place was nicely deserted. A favourite time of year for us, not just because of the peace and quiet, but also because the seals are having their pups in the harsh but relatively safe coves.

We camp on occasion, and managed with great difficulty this time to get the tent set up during severe winds. We had chosen a week that was seeing the tail end of some hurricane or another.

The sense of joy and calm every time I get to Whitesands Bay and the surrounding area is quite overwhelming. The night had brought with it howling winds and rough seas, and the following morning saw numerous Portugese Man o' War jellyfish washed up, along with an unfortunate seal pup.

We walked, and talked, and most often just went along in our own thoughtful silence. The complications of life were left far behind.

After a second night of no sleep, due to the noise of the tent in the storms, we decided that if this trip was going to benefit us physically and mentally, then we must pack up the tent, and find somewhere solid to stay. A cosy B&B in the heart of St.Davids became our safe haven for the remaining days, and we enjoyed some basic comforts such as Martinis in the evening, and a cooked breakfast in the morning.

One of my manly pursuits is pressing flowers, and when we occasionally stopped, I would empty my pockets of things collected on the walk, and place them safely in the press. 

Amanda is the photographer, a it's nice to watch her roam about, taking pictures of various things that catch her eye. I can spend a long time just watching her,

In my youth I would skim board with my mates, and I had made my own for this trip. It skimmed across the water beautifully, but needs a slight modification to be perfect. I was nicely surprised to not come flying off it as expected!

We always spend most of our time at the bay, walking, reading, and drinking endless tea.

The sunsets are stunning, and we never leave the bay until the sun has completely set'

The week went far too quickly, and autumn is now in it's full glory at work.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


We have been having a bit of a clear out of paperwork and rubbish that's seems to always be gathering, and amongst some of it was a piece of paper that had questions from the daughters that I had completely forgotten about. I had challenged them both a couple of years ago to come up with ten questions each to ask me, about anything that they didn't know about me.

We had taken a sunny afternoon off work, and so with cold Mojitos to drink, Amanda comfortable with a book, and me with pen and paper, we settled into a corner of the garden.

There turned out to be about thirty between them, and although some of the questions seem obvious and simple, and even occasionally predictable, they opened my eyes to just how difficult it is to answer them truthfully, completely, and with an open mind.

They made me question myself far more than I expected, and I have written down most of my answers so far, with just a few left to do. I need the peace of the garden once more.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017


It's been a while since I wrote anything. I can only put it down to the fact that work has been really full on this year, and the mental batteries have been dead at the end of each day. Loads of stuff has happened, but that's another story, for another day.

We are however gardeners, and with that comes a never ending desire to feed ourselves with sights, thoughts, and inspiration, and to this end we had a week off and took ourselves off to France, where I personally ticked a few things off my bucket list.

The bike was ready for an adventure, and we were happy to join her, so after arriving in Cherbourg we headed south to start our thrills. We rode on only minor roads, deliberately avoiding motorways, as we wanted to experience the riding we had heard so much about, and I have to say that if you ever want to get some of THE best motorcycling, then get yourself to France!

There are two gardens on my list of 'must do's', and the first was Claude Monet's garden at Giverny. Carefully planted to give an informal, hazy, and dizzy summer display of colour, it makes one slow down when walking around. Having seen many of his paintings, it's easy to see where his direction and inspiration came from.

Gardeners weren't so much toiling, as carefully considering. They had time to carry out their work, to reflect, and it showed in their manner. I was really quite envious of the opportunity they had, and wondered if they were aware of how fortunate they were. It was blisteringly hot that day, and we strolled very slowly around, sipping water from a bottle, and talking endlessly to one another about the various plants, schemes and vistas etc. 

Sprinklers sent cascades of water over the drier areas. Not something that we would personally recommend in such direct sunlight, but we justified it by the fact that the gardeners are only there during opening hours, and better to water then than not at all. Seed heads were left on to add to the overall effect.

Of course, having seen 'The Water Lilies' at the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris, we were really excited about visiting the garden that gave him such inspiration. It was a lovely and cool change to the garden next to his house, and we felt ourselves physically settle in its peace. It was a garden to remember.

After a good ride back though the countryside, we arrived at our base. It was still incredibly warm, and a cool drink as we cooled our feet in the pool was just what was needed. Our own pool to ourselves......a perfect end to the day.

The next garden was a little nearer, and after a coffee half way into our ride, we arrived at Versailles.
It was a garden that I have wanted to see ever since I started in this work, and being someone who has a heart in the formal garden layout, I wasn't disappointed. Security was tight given the current climate, but the soldiers with guns allowed me a brief photo call with our bike. We had a two day pass, and it was needed. We saw the palace on the first day, saving the second day for the gardens.

The palace was impressive, but for us the gardens are what drew us, and after a short stroll we were met with this! From a gardeners point of view, pretty awesome, and for the entire day I was always putting myself with a hedge trimmer here, or a trowel there.

Thunderstorms were forecast later in the day, but it was hot and humid so far. The sun shone down.

I watched some gardeners trimming the low box hedging with electric trimmers, powered by batteries carried on their backs. Very quiet, but the blades needed sharpening. This guy was a delight to watch. Unhappy in the heat, but happy in his work, as I discovered in my broken French. The bare areas were to be planted soon after.

Formality was everywhere. I was in heaven. I wanted to offer my services for free, just for the experience. 

Le Petit Trianon was given as a gift to Marie Antoinette from her king. She didn't like the garden already filled with rare, exotic, and incredibly expensive plants from all around the world (I have to take her side on this), and after having the entire collection sent to Paris, had them replaced with plants that more resembled an English country garden. It is planted thus today, and I have to say that she had good taste.

Versailles has an incredible garden, and it's far too big to see in one day. We must return. The day was coming to a close, and yet we were both still so excited, inspired, hungry. Before we left, we both headed over to see the Orangerie. Over 1000 fruit trees and exotics are brought out from there winter protection under the palace, and positioned formally to create this garden that took my breathe away. Formality at it's best. Our control over plants at it's foremost. 

We watched as a gardener very slowly and painstakingly pruned the larger pieces of growth from this Cupressus, before finishing off by tightly trimming it with hand shears. In about half an hour, he only trimmed another foot higher. I wished that every gardener was allowed such luxury of time, as it is not only better for the look of the plant effect, but for the worker carrying out the task.

Two gardens, totally different, and yet both totally inspiring. Nowadays our work isn't in such splendid spaces, but gardens are where we spend most of our time, they inspire us still, challenge us, feed us, and long may it last.

We rode many miles in France, and spent time in Bayeaux, where we saw the famous tapestry (another thing on my own bucket list). We spent some time in Chartre with it's beautiful cathedral, and came away with some medieval stained glass for our home. We met some other wonderful people on their own motorcycle adventures, along with many, many French people that made us laugh, entertained us, fed us, and at times frustrated us. For someone that doesn't do mussels, I joined Amanda in what can only be described as a bucket of Moules, with a saucepan of frites, at a spontaneous motorbike pull in and eat in Alencon. Our last night was spent in a room on Mont St. Michel that overlooked the beach. The evening/night spent walking the walls and talking with young travellers as food and drink was laid out spontaneously.

We are counting the days until our return.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Road Trip

Well she is serviced and tuned, and ready for our long awaited road trip in June. France here we come!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Project 1

A nice, slow, and interesting start to the new gardening year. There have been a couple of projects to get under way, the first of which is this place. 

We have worked for several members of this family, at various locations, since we first ever started Four Seasons twenty years ago. The garden to this house was never really thought out properly when the place was built. The house itself is really quite beautiful, and set in a vast garden, mostly of which is to the rear, and 90% of which is itself sloping woodland. That area is getting some attention in the next four to five years, but for now we have upgraded the smaller front garden.

The main issue was with the original planting carried out by the builders during construction of the property, which given the ground and location were totally inappropriate. There is a surrounding wall, which, because of it's size meant that the concrete footings extended out into the garden about two and a half feet. Planted along this were Cupressus sempervirens, which in themselves are really quite stunning trees, that offer a formality that the whole site requires. One problem, and perhaps the main one is that they don't have a very large and strong root system, and so, what with the concrete being in the way only six inches under the surface of the soil, they grew, but were never going to be very secure in their new surroundings. Sure enough, last winter there were strong winds, and the already wobbly trees could take it no more and leaned all over the place.

Another issue we faced was the large trampoline needed by the family for their young children. It needed to remain, but we felt that it didn't need to dominate the garden such as it did.

A proposal was put forward, it was accepted, and last month we set about the work. The right hand border was lined with disused railway sleepers, and first we rearranged these to create a much larger border to the end of the garden. To prevent them from moving, we had to drive steel bars through them and into the ground.

Next, the corner area was built up, and the trampoline secured and levelled.

Any grass was sprayed off to prevent further growth......

....and then the soil and bark mulch were delivered, all fourteen tons of it. Rebecca handled the placing of it, while myself and Amanda discussed any complications that may occur during the day.

Everybody grabbed a spade, and soon enough the soil was in place to build up the new border.

We had taken out every single plant beforehand, and saved a selection of the existing shrubs according to their size and interest. Due to the fact that the house itself has a slightly oriental look to it because of it's shape and roof, we wanted to maintain the formality along the long white wall, and provide something that in appearance offered the same shape as the cupressus, had some colour throughout the year, but more importantly grew more securely.

We chose Prunus 'Amanogawa', a fastigiate Japanese flowering cherry tree that offers up fragrant flowers in the spring, and richly coloured leaves in the autumn. The root system is also more appropriate to where they are being planted, and given that they will be leafless during the wildest times of the year, should hold up better to any winds than their predecessors.

Under planted with a low hedge of Euonymus japonicus 'Aureo Marginata', the plan is for the formal line to lead the eye to the much less formal border at the end, which will in itself provide an array of colour and shapes throughout the year.

A timber edged path was created for access to the trampoline, which will be hidden by the use of some existing large shrubs that we transplanted, and will allow to grow even bigger.

It needs about three years to establish properly, but it should work.