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