It seems to take a huge feat of organisation to get myself out of London these days (apart from the odd month in Greece), and I’ve been wanting to visit Allt y Bela, Arne Maynard’s garden near Usk in Wales, for a long time now. As you can see from the image above, both house and garden did not disappoint!
Everywhere you look, trees and shrubs are trained and clipped to perfection and the sight is jaw-dropping and wondrous, especially against the ocre-coloured backdrop of the lovingly restored cruck barn and other out buildings.
Inspired by the woven rose domes (above),
and other great rose structures (above) at Notre Dame Prieure D’Orsan in France, Ive been experimeting with climbing and shrub roses, twirling them around all sorts of wigwams and ‘domes’ and the results have been very satisfying, supplying a huge amounrt of roses from just a few stems.
Here at Allt y bela, in the beginning of April, you could see how artfully shrub roses (I think) were trained around hazel domes and I’d love to go back another time in June to see everything in full flower.
Further inspiration was found by roses being coaxed over the corner of a wall,
with the end of stems being tied into pegs nestling in the cracks of the stone walls,
and trained roses along hazel rods at the back of the house. All rather glorious.
Every angle of the garden gives you stunning views,
including the beatifully designed amphitheatre.
And nature has been sharply clipped into shape throughout.
This garden isn’t open to the general public, but, for a not small sum, you can book a delicious B&B room,
with great views, and have plenty of time to wander around the gardens at your leisure and soak up the atmosphere.
Thistle (a gorgeous Czech pointer) is happy to wander with you,
Nearly every street I walk down in London has Box that looks like this now. You can even see one of the culprits happily munching away below. I wrote about this around 18 months ago, but it seems to be so much more visiable this year.
It’s not a pretty sight and when it’s this far gone, spraying with toxic chemicals or a gentler organic version, just won’t do.
I’m stunned to see that so many garden centres in London are still selling Box, especially when there are so many viable alternatives. And although I wouldn’t wish this devastation on any gardener, I do see this widespread infestation as a great opportunity to increase the biodiversity in our city by planting shrubs that will attract pollinators and feed birds, while still supplying year-round interest. We may even get a nibble of some fruits too!
I still really like the idea of a Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae) hedge, with evergreen foliage and delicious small red berries as a huge bonus. Plants can be found at Edulis Nursery and they have a variegated variety too if that’s your bag. I’ve been growing one in a pot in my garden and it’s coming on well, with lots of fruits forming for this summer.
Rosemary is a lovely alternative too. Not such a tight form as Box, but evergreen, with flowers that are loved by bees and with an aromatic foliage always that’s always useful for cooking. Definitely a winner in my book.
A hedge of Chaenomeles japonica is a gorgeous thing, especially as it flowers so early in the year, bringing very welcome blooms and an early source of nectar for bees.
And it comes in this lovely deep coral colour,
and a vibrant red hue too.
I love the idea of Sea buckthorn (above) too, with its gorgeous green-green elegant foliage and nutrient-rich berries, but I’ve only seen it growing in coastal areas on very light, sandy soil, so this may not be a goer for our heavy London clay soil.
For those who still yearn for that tight, clipped look, Ilex crenata convexa is a handsome candidate and RHS Wisley has an ongoing trial of many box alternatives including Berberis darwinii ‘Compacta’, Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ and Pittosporum ‘Collaig Silver’.
Each year, the more I espy Pyracantha berries lighting up the neighbourhood, the more I appreciate this much-maligned shrub, and although not evergreen, Rosa rugosa has joyous blooms (in pink and white), with a stonking scent,
and lovely red hips.
Or how about some gorgeous step-over apples used to define an area? You just to need to buy a whip (one year old tree bought as a bare-rooted plant in autumn) and then snip it to the height you want, anywhere from 9inches to a couple of feet, and then train the branches horizontally. A very simple, but hugely satisfying process
The alternatives to Box are endless, and as I jot these ideas down, I feel another community project coming on to replace these sad, dead specimens. By planting a host of interesting and varied shrubs, we could further green-up our neighbourhood, rejuvenate front gardens and help to increase biodiversity in or urban enclave.
This is Geoff (not my dog). He’s featuring because our community gardening project is holding a DOG SHOW as part of the Chelsea Fringe this year on Sunday May 19th in Finsbury Park, North London. We think it may be a popular event, so go Here to book in your hound to one of 6 categories, including: Dog with the best horticultural head dress, Dog with the waggiest tail, Dog who most looks like their owner etc. You get the picture! Should be a hoot!!
Here’s the cakes bit. As ever, our Mega Cake Sunday will be featuring oodles of home-made delights to tempt you,
and the fabulous new gardening App CANDIDE will also be joining us, giving away free seeds and plants to celebrate all things community. Hurrah!!
So please do come along on Sunday May 19th, 2-5pm (Dog Show between 3 & 4pm), catch up with the Blackstock Triangle neighbours, chat about gardening and whatever else is on your mind and pick up some free plants to green-up your neighbourhood, wherever you garden!!
Venue and all details of the afternoon are listed here.