Gelli Uchaf, Wales and Noel Kingsbury

Last week we drove across country to Wales, a land of enormously varied and beautiful scenery, spectacular coastlines and Gelli Uchaf, the home and garden of Julian and Fiona Wormald in the west of Wales.

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View from the terrace of Gelli Ufach

Julian and Fiona live on the top of a hill in a welsh Longhouse and garden in challenging conditions but they have staggeringly beautiful views. He writes an intelligent, thought provoking and diverse blog, centred around their life and garden – The Garden Impressionists and some months ago Julian wrote about a planned workshop, Noel Kingsbury was holding in their garden ‘The Rabbits Eye View’. I have dipped in a few of Noel’s books and coupled with Julian’s accounts, the opportunity to attend ‘The Rabbits Eye View’ workshop and visit Julian and Fiona’s garden at the same time was irresistible.

Noel

Noel, jolly and entertaining in the Gelli Uchaf borders

We booked a short stay in a wonderful cottage, Felin Fach near Lampeter as either side of our 4 day break had unavoidable work commitments.  Wales is renown for rain but as our trip approached we were delighted to see a largely dry forecast.

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Water Butt at Gelli Uchaf, every vista has beautiful detail

Before the Thursday workshop, our Journey from home on the Tuesday to West Wales took us through the Brecon Beacons, designated a national park, part GeoPark and now also has International Dark Sky status too. An area covering 1,344 square kilometres with glorious rolling hills, home to the Hay on Wye Literary festival and invigorating walks.

Brecon Beacons

Brecon Beacons – Bales of Bracken

Part of the Brecon Beacons is common land, which means that local farmers have the right to graze livestock and to take or use some of the natural products. Here the right of ‘estovers’ – the right to cut and collect certain plants such as the bracken, which is cut in Autumn and baled, then used as bedding for farm animals.

Bracken and Gorse on Brecon Beacons Mynydd IIItud common land

Bracken and Gorse on Brecon Beacons Mynydd IIItud common land

We arrived at our cottage, way after night fall as looking for something to eat in Wales is like looking for the proverbial needle in a Bracken stack, especially in autumn. Lesson learnt we stocked up at the first opportunity and Wednesday morning set off for the coastline in search of the National Trust owned Stackpole Estate and Barafundle Bay, which according to the Trust is often voted one of the most beautiful bays in the World.

Barafundle Bay

Barafundle Bay

We drove along some of the route my husband had cycled on two years ago, up huge hills and down again with glimpses of the coast and finally arrived at National Trust owned Stackpole, parked in the almost empty car park and walked on to Barafundle Bay, we were not disappointed, even with a watery cool autumnal sky, the sea was still very blue, we walked on further until the weather changed and a squall of rain came in, then headed back to the car and the journey back to our cottage. No road is quick in Wales, as they meander through hills and mountains, tiny villages and few street lights. So again we arrived back at almost 9p.m.

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Up early the next day, as Anne the cottage owner and fellow workshop attendee kindly offered to take me, whilst my husband went walking with an old friend. Anne drove smoothly through beautiful countryside and as she chatted it was clear she is a very knowledgable plantswoman herself. We arrived early as Anne was helping Fiona with food and I wandered off into their garden for a short while.

First view in the morning

My first glimpse of their daily view

To the front of their Longhouse is a terrace, divided into two areas both overlooking the views to sell your house for.

Julian and Fiona's Welsh Longhouse

Julian and Fiona’s Welsh Longhouse

It was hard to know which way to go first as in every direction was something to draw me along. Julian and Fiona open for the National Gardens Scheme, if folk haven’t visited before its likely they get giddy with exhilaration . And then a second visit, third and fourth must be just as  giddying.

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A table to enjoy the Gelli Uchaf views from

I had not properly thought through how much Noel’s course would resonate with me before attending but boy what an eye opener. Noel’s course ‘Rabbits Eye View’ encouraged us to think more about plants in ecological terms, how the relationship with environments and ethical sustainability affected plant and plant design choices for the good. And in a fun, warm and refreshing way.

Rabbits eye View

Noel demonstrating the ‘Rabbits Eye View’

We got down to the nitty gritty of planting and looked at exactly how plants grow, challenging us to think through plant survival techniques and long term plant performances and especially to think ecologically as well as horticulturally. Noel took us through Julian and Fiona’ garden, which he clearly liked very much, he was warm, kind and encouraging and very charming. Noel is known for his naturalistic planting design and collaborations with other designers such as Piet Oudolf. Jason from Garden in a City reviewed his book Hummelo earlier this year.

Gelli Uchaf Woodland Garden. Photo Courtesy of Julian Wormald

Gelli Uchaf Woodland Garden. Photo Courtesy of Julian Wormald

As Noel guided us, gently interviewing Julian and Fiona at the same time he pointed out the details in every area of their garden, the smallest of details were joyous. I felt as if I should not be walking on the moss paths, my heavy footprints quite disturbing. We finally departed around 4.30p.m  –  7 hours had just whizzed by.

Moss paths through the woodland garden

Moss paths through the woodland garden with Saxifrage fortunei on left

If you have the chance to visit Julian and Fiona’s Garden, please take it as its so beautiful. I have only scratched the surface here, Julian’s The Garden Impressionists blog has far better photographs from every season to entice you and if Noel Kingsbury loves this garden then that recommendation is hard to beat.

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Photo courtesy of Julian Wormald Rabbits Eye View Workshop with Noel Kingsbury

On our last day in Wales before the journey east and back home we made the trip to New Quay on the Cardigan Bay, which is a Marine Conservation Zone. We stood on New Quay harbour with a Wildlife Trust volunteer, who was monitoring the Bottlenose Dolphins inhabiting these waters. He said as another rain squall came in behind us and I packed my camera away, this was unusually mild weather for the time of year. Within minutes a large Bottlenose fully leapt from the water tossing a fish in the air. The Wildlife Trust man, said we were incredibly lucky, that behaviour is rarely seen. Obviously I can’t show you that photo as I had just put my camera away, but we felt thoroughly blessed to have had such a wonderful trip to Wales. I shall leave you with one of Julian’s unbelievably beautiful early morning garden views instead.

Gelli Uchaf photo courtesy of Juilan Wormald

Gelli Uchaf photo courtesy of Julian Wormald

61 thoughts on “Gelli Uchaf, Wales and Noel Kingsbury

  1. That looks fabulous Julie. It’s a part of the country I know from my childhood, as my father was brought up around there. I’ve never been to Barafundle Bay though (as I recall) and that is a must next time we are up that way. Julian and Fiona’s garden looks wonderful too, I can quite identify with the challenge it must be.

    • They have some really interesting solutions for slope and terrace gardening – I have only covered a tiny part of their garden and Julian’s blog is crammed full of ideas. The vegetable garden is up again from the house overlooking the roof top. Did you always have a rural life? We read your blog full of longing for the life you lead in Devon.

    • That was a coincidence! We were in the West and our dog came too, so limited joint garden visiting on this trip. Bodnant looked wonderful, the National Trust membership is worth every single penny.

  2. What a wonderful trip, I did enjoy your photographs and your day with Noel sounds amazing. I visited his garden in June and was fascinated by his experiments with ecology and plant combinations. And that beach! I have never visited it but I would love to.

    • Oh wow, I imagine Noel’s garden is a real treat to visit, he spoke briefly about his own garden and experimental areas. I hope we get to visit one day too.

    • Its a part of Wales we did not really know, but want to go back to – we came back with a fantasy about moving there. I agree its a very beautiful area.

  3. Fascinating Julie. My husband is from Wales and we make annual trip there to see relatives so will put the garden on our list of places to visit. Many thanks for sharing. K

    • Mines from West London! The trip to Wales sounds a great deal nicer. The Wildlife Trust man said the weather in Wales is usually extremely wet in October but have just seen its 22 degrees there today. You have some wonderful countryside between you both. Julian hosts another blog you might be interested in on wordpress too.
      http://carmarthenshiremeadows.com

      • Will check it out. Here too record November temperatures – 2o degrees in south Ireland about 16 here in the west- strange weather!

    • Eliza, from reading your blog, I know you would really love this part of the world and the garden they have created here. I am often working on my own so the opportunity to spend a whole day with like minded folk and learn something new was especially lovely.

      • Yes we do and I really should take a few shots when I’m walking the dog! We have the Bowland Fells, the Pennines and the Lake District on our doorstep too.

  4. How delightful. Gelli Uchaf looks enchanting and I know exactly what you mean by being pulled in all directions, giddy with excitement. The rest of your trip sounds like it was fun too. Lucky you to see that Bottlenose’s stunt! And finally, I’ve never seen or heard of bracken being baled before, so that’s something else learnt today.

    • As we walked over the hill I just assumed it was bales of hay until we got up close. The whole process seemed so connected to the earth. We did not see any form of arable farming in the Brecons or anywhere else on our Welsh travels but then it should of been harvested by now, unlike here where it is relentlessly dominant.On the red button Autumn Watch last night they were talking about grazing albeit in Scotland resulting in a lack of biodiversity – no trees, very few invertebrates, this made me wonder if this was partly a problem here too. I wonder what invertebrates Bracken supports..and wether they have lots of Bracken in Scotland. Hopefully Julian can shed some more light.

  5. Fabulous post, Julie! Not just the description of the workshop and Julian and Fiona’s lovely garden but also your other visits to the coast and your journey over the Brecon Beacons. I love Wales and after reading this post have such an urge to go back!

    • Clare, apparently temperatures soared to 22 degrees this week in West Wales, we had packed head to toe water proofs, but did not need them. Even in the rain its such a beautiful place and so different from the flatness of the east.

  6. Thank you for the tour of Wales and Julian and Fiona’s garden…wonderful photos. We were there in autumn last year…and we were amazed by the autumn colours. We were surprised at how long it took to drive a short distance in Wales, (coming from Australia we weren’t really prepared for the meandering roads) but an unforgettable experience….

    • Sounds as if you enjoyed your trip, we wished we could of stayed much longer, especially for the Autumn colour, they have some wonderful gardens as well as natural scenery in Wales that I hope you got to visit. Even though Wales is much closer for us, there are never enough hours to do everything we want to do. My husband has visited Australia but I am still to go, thats a country I would really like to visit.

  7. That countryside is gorgeous and the gardens also look wonderful. I have occasionally visited their blog and love the photography. Sounds like a wonderful trip all in all, with the seminar as an added bonus. Thanks for sharing Julie!

    • I could of guessed that you had read their blog, its an interesting read, I never know what to expect when I open Julian’s posts, I usually go and get a cup of coffee to settle down and read with, as I know it will be packed with interesting and unusual events and observations. I often wish I led their life. Like you they live in a beautiful location.

  8. I don’t really know Wales at all, so thank you so much for educating me as to its beauty. The garden looks fabulous. Since moving to Italy where gardening isn’t easy I have had to adopt the techniques you describe as to choice of plants and design considerations. Most gardens in England and probably Wales can grow such a huge quantity of different plants that the considerations Noel suggests are rarely made, but I have always thought that Beth Chatto’s mantra of ‘Right Plant in the Right Place’ is the most important consideration when gardening.

    • Interesting that you mention Beth Chatto, even though the conditions are quite different – hills and wet on the slopes, they took their inspiration from her garden, especially on the terraced areas near the house. It was impossible to remove any building stones, so the terrace and planting areas were constructed from stone and slate chip paths with no soil. I agree with you about Beth Chatto’s mantra too.

    • I really hope we get to come back, the NGS tweeted you are opening for 2016 today. I don’t care if it rains either we have wet weather gear! Thanks so much for the invitation and to you and Fiona for a really wonderful day.

  9. Your beautiful pictures and story lines put a big smile on my face. I do not drive so miss out alot on special places of outstanding beauty. So thank you for your knowledge and photos. Paula Mcquoid. Cardiff.

  10. Hi Julie! This was a wonderful description of such a beautiful part of the world and what was obviously a fascinating workshop in a lovely garden. Your photos of the countryside were just heavenly. I loved Barafundle Bay. I have visited Wales many times but never this part of the coastline so it is definitely on my list now. The scenery in the Brecon Beacons was so beautiful with all the autumn colors of the bracken and gorse together. I have never seen bracken baled like this before – really interesting. So glad it was such a great trip with no rain! Thanks for sharing.

    Kate R

    • Thank you! There seems to be so many choices in Wales, for what is a comparatively small country they have more than their fair share of beautiful countryside and coastline. We came back wanting to move to Wales….

  11. We use to visit Stackpole Quay and the surrounding area for holidays regularly many years ago, it is a beautiful area. We visited Noels garden this September. it was open for the NGS. It is a very relaxed almost wild garden which is what you would expect from his writings and environmental concerns. I liked it, Irene not so much. Gelli-Uchaf looks wonderful, I will put on my wish list to visit and have a look at their blog. Thank you for the intro.

    • That was my first visit and was blown away with how beautiful that part of Wales is. (we’ve been to North Wales several times) I think I would feel like you Brian and really like his garden – I came away wanting to read much more of Noel’s work. I asked him if it was a stress to open his garden and he said no, more of a stress to make the cakes. He was so relaxed yet sure of his principles. I really hope we go when his garden is open next year for NGS.

  12. What a lovely post, top to bottom. I wish I could simply crawl into many of your photos and spend time taking in every detail. The gardens you feature seem so opposite to what we deal with in the hot and often drought-plagued state of Texas, but no matter where a garden falls on the weather spectrum, the need to plant with an eye on interrelationships formed is key. Taking into account what is native, how those plants grow companionably and the wildlife they support – it is all fascinating and rewarding and yes – leaves the thoughtful gardener quite giddy at the possibilities! Thank you for sharing these beautiful spaces and the people who tend them!

    • Thanks so much Deb, thats such a thoughtful response, you really made me smile. In our comparatively small island, we have far fewer natives than you do. The RHS (our leading garden and plant charity) recently commissioned research into native versus non native planting for wildlife and concluded non natives were just as beneficial. We do not have the conditions here where plants really get out of control – there are some incidences – Rhododendron for example but by and large without non natives our gardens in the UK and the wildlife garden plants support would be the poorer.

  13. What an amazing few days! I’ve never been to Wales but your photographs are very enticing. I think I would have very much appreciated the workshop too. On top of visiting Gelli Uchaf it must have been a lot to absorb. I loved the photograph of the mossy path and the Saxifrage. I never quite realised they had all that beautiful garden and also the spectacular views. Amelia

    • Yes, I am sure you would have enjoyed every aspect very much Amelia, great workshop, wonderful garden and interesting company. I could not stop looking at the views or trying to work out if we could move there!

  14. A wonderful account of your experience in Wales. I think the garden was begun after we moved from South Wales & have only seen it previously on TV, I know I’d be visiting often if it were a little nearer.You are so right about trying to find places to eat and failing, we spent many Sundays driving the Beacons and surrounds with the kids years ago & rarely succeeded even in the daytime!

    • Thanks Theresa, we will definitely take a packed lunch next time! I have been listening to weather reports for North Wales, I hope there was not too much damage for you after the last lot of storms. That was quite a change after the balmy weather we experienced.

  15. Oh, wow, Julie! What a delightful post. Thanks for taking me on the tour with you and introducing these places, gardens and people. Great description and photos. Thanks again and I’ll check out Julian’s blog too.

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