A Visit from Anne Wareham

Life is full of surprises.  On Wednesday I had a visit from Anne Wareham and her husband Charles Hawes.  I have known Anne virtually for a while.  I follow her on Twitter, read her website thinkingardens, and she reads my blog from time to time and occasionally comments.  I met her and Charles briefly at the Malvern show last year and I keep an eye out for her journalism.  We had a couple of email exchanges after I blogged about a recent visit to Beth Chatto's garden and she suggested that she would like to come up and see the garden.  So that was the first surprise.

My immediate reaction was to wonder if she was serious - Veddw is a great garden, my garden is hardly yet even a work in progress.  I am not a trained gardener.  I am not an artist.  I used to be an adviser on international tax and now I am a garden obsessive, partly I think to use up the energy which used to go into my work.  My second reaction was to be intrigued.  I wasn't sure why she was interested but I couldn't really see what I had to lose.  Anne has a reputation for straight talking.  It's hard to get feedback on what you are doing if you are trying to create a garden.  Most people are not that interested in gardening and even those who are tend to respond to being shown around someone's garden by commenting on what is in flower and making gently admiring noises.  I am not criticising that.  I do it myself.  Gardening is hard work and deeply personal.  Unless someone positively encourages you to pass judgement on something, the kind and courteous thing to do is to wander around looking for something nice to say.  I have a couple of friends whose judgement I seek and value and we know each other well enough for me to be able to express  my dislike of restios and for them to be able to tell me that a part of my garden isn't working, but that is rare.

But Anne, I knew, would really look and would tell me what she thought.  As long as I could cope with hearing that, I had the chance to see things through her eyes.  I knew she could be caustic but she had sent me a couple of very kind emails after my brother had a huge stroke last year so I was pretty sure she could be trenchant without being unkind.  It was an opportunity I couldn't possibly turn down and whatever else it would be, it would be interesting.   And if I couldn't guarantee to give them an interesting time in return, I could give them good food and copious amounts of wine and a comfortable bed for the night.

I decided I would not look in any detail at the photos of Veddw on the website or read too much about it.  If I did I might lose my nerve.  Finding out more about the garden they had made could come afterwards.  So I wasn't sure how to get ready for such a visit.  There didn't seem much point in weeding.  There were various reasons I could imagine for her suggesting that she came, including that she might think the garden was more interesting than it is, but a desire to see if I could weed was unlikely to be among them.  In the end Ian cut the grass.

I have done quite a lot of meeting people in the flesh who I have got to know virtually and indeed some of my very good friends have come into my life this way.  It's always odd the first time.  In some ways you know quite a lot about them and in other ways they are strangers.  At its best it short circuits the process of getting to know people and gets you to the interesting conversation quickly.  People are very rarely different when you meet them from the impression you have gained from their virtual presence as long as you ignore the physical.  They might be taller or shorter, older or younger and have different coloured hair but their real physical presence very swiftly overrides the mental picture you might have had and I have never met anyone whose character or personality was a surprise and so it was this time.   Charles was warm and outgoing.  Anne was friendly but more reserved.

We started right in front of the house with the view and the bank.  Immediately it was clear that Anne sees shapes: the curving shape of the cultivated bit of the bank stops short of where it could.  We have lived here for six years and only recently started to say to each other that the bank should be extended.  It was practically the first thing she said.  Here we have the difference between the professional and the amateur.  It is a big job.  Will we do it in some fashion?  Probably.  This happened a lot.  She offered immediately and with clarity something that I have been feeling my way towards and which is beginning to form as an idea.  I am not sure whether to be pleased at this as an indication that I am learning how to think about land and shapes or faintly despairing at how long it will all take at my pace.  I wish we had started this garden in our thirties and not our fifties.


The side garden was the first place where the  planting and the ground to plant it in are all mine.  This is the easiest bit of the garden in terms of its size and shape.  It is domestic in scale, more like the gardens of my life so far.  What has been hard has been learning what will grow in its very thin and stony soil but I know what I want it to feel like: quiet, calm, enclosed, with more colour than other parts of the garden but still very green. It is where I sit with my cup of tea and my book when the size of the view or the strength of the breeze are too much for me.  "Pretty," Charles said.  My heart sank.  I am not sure "pretty" is a term of approval in the Wareham/Hawes lexicon.  But that is fair enough, it is pretty in its own quiet way.

Out through to the field.  We have only been trying to do something here for about three years and this is the hardest place: an acre of sloping pasture with a large workshop and now a large metal barn.  The size, the scale, the nature of the land have all taken a long time to get to grips with.  I tried to explain what I am trying to do which is to echo the simplicity and functional beauty of the house and its immediate buildings with something which belongs with them, where the beauty comes from the place and where there is a sense of purpose underlying the shapes on the land. I don't want historical pastiche or cottage garden.    I want lush planting in simple shapes for practical, functional purposes.  The field is very simply divided into three by native hedging.  The top third is for playing, the middle third for productive fruit, vegetables and flowers, and the bottom third is meant to be a place of beauty, somewhere to go, to get lost in, to muse in.

I was impressed by how non-judgemental Anne was.  I suppose at the back of my mind I had wondered if  someone who describes herself as "a thorn in the side of the gardening world" would take awkwardness as a default position.  I thought she might have taken issue with my basic proposition and that would have made me shout or cry or stick my fingers in my ears bawling.  But she didn't.  She listened carefully.  She accepted that this was what I was trying to achieve and she set out to comment on how I was achieving it.  That was phenomenal.

The top third of the field contains a wooden swing and an area of roses beyond it, intended to enclose the swing area and to put a stop to it.  Anne did not like my roses although she was quite gentle in the saying so. There were too many colours.  They were not big enough.  I tried to counter, at least in relation to their size, with their youth but I think their days might be numbered.  This is partly because the top corner of the field will hold the shepherd's hut, my private space, my writing room.  It needs to be separated from the area to swing and play and kick balls and when that separation is done the space with the roses in it will work differently.  Hi ho.  Where will they go to? That is the question, or one of the questions.

As you would expect from someone who has created a garden from nothing on a large scale, Anne has an eye for scale and shape which is both exhilarating and unsettling.  She seemed uninterested in the question of the planting which would produce the further sense of enclosure in the area of the shepherd's hut.  That there needed to be something was a given.  What it should consist of interested her far less than the issues arising from placing the shepherd's hut there.  In a garden where you wander or work, we are making a place where you will be still and where you will look out on the view for protracted periods.  She suggested taking out three trees at the bottom corner of the field which would open up the view from the hut.  One of them isn't on our land, one I am persuaded by as it is a twisted willow which has always looked a bit out of place, and one is a small oak tree.  Can I cope with taking out the oak?  I love oak trees but it will grow very big.  Does that matter?  How many years have I got?  We are surrounded by others and there are some fine trees in the field boundary, oak and ash mainly.  The jury is out on how much of this to do.  When the hut is in place and we are sitting looking out through the door we shall know.

Scale was the question again in the bottom third of the field.  Over the last three years I have been creating something which has somehow become known as the native tree walk, oddly and rather grandiosely.  It started as a line of four trees, planted as bare rooted sticks in the tussocky grass of the field.  A couple of years later it became a bed.



And then a wider bed.



This year at last it works as a piece of planting but even last year I knew that it floats oddly free at the bottom of the field.  I wanted it to give you somewhere to walk to but it needed the whole of that area to be somewhere to walk into.  So this was the genesis of my annual wildflower meadow.


Here it is in April.  It looked huge then and it felt huge as I laboured over extracting docks and dandelions.


It is only just on the verge of flowering but it looks a lot smaller now.  The first thing Anne said as she came into it was "Why isn't this bigger?" and damn it and damn it and damn it again it should be bigger.  It should be as long as the native tree walk and much wider so that you have to walk right inside it, maybe even sit inside it.  It may be the answer to the whole disturbance I felt in Beth Chatto's garden that there is nowhere in my garden where you are in the middle rather than alongside.  Again I think I was feeling my way there but I have been kicked into the middle of the answer.  It should be very, very much bigger.

Thank you Anne.  I think.  That is about as much as I can process for now.

It was fascinating.  I am very glad they came and glad I risked feeling foolish.  Now I just need more time, more money or more energy, or possibly less garden.  No, not less garden.

Comments

  1. I was once stunned to get an email from Anne Wareham via LinkedIn. Perhaps she is a bark is worse than her bite woman? For her message surprised me by its kindness. And my garden, is distant, small, and not 'worthy' of her attention! You and I both have a - tea and a book - bit in our garden, which is where my roses are. What a privilege to have her advice, your garden is on its second wind now!

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    1. It was a privilege Diana and a kindness too. It has given me a lot to think about!

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  2. Yes, what to do now ...? I also know Anne via cyberspace, and recently I did what she does at the Veddw. When a local garden group came to a gathering in my small, new, very unfinished garden in Brooklyn, I asked everyone to write down one thing they would change or add. Looking at the comments later was sort of like opening presents. It's certainly helpful to get others' perspectives (some were quite surprising), even if you don't know what to do with them. Some suggestions I immediately rejected, but others I'm living with and giving further thought to. I enjoyed your post ... I've never seen so much of your garden before and feel I know it better now (though I know photos are not the same as visiting).

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    1. I think that it a great idea James. You get people's thoughts then rather than their vague compliments. Then the art is to hang onto your own vision while opening it out to the ideas which inspire or change your view.

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  3. I am not familar with Anne Wareham but your post feeds into musings about my yard/garden/woods behind our main house. It is the result of what began twenty years ago and I still haven't made it what the heart and eye want it to be. I guess I need someone to have a look, a new eye . . . these seventy plus years can't delve in to the digging and changing like once was possible.

    You gave me energy though, to bring someone in for a look. It is a blend I am looking for of fern and flower, tree and grasses . . . tamed yet free with a flowing mixture of green and bits of shape and color. Gardening is such a love . . . I look out and ponder . . .

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    1. The business of someone really looking is key as you say Lynne. It is rare to find anyone who can. I think it is a great idea to bring someone in to look at your garden but choose your person with care!

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    2. Oh and do look at the thinkingardens website (link above) Lynne if you are interested. Serious and unusual!

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  4. It sounds in some ways as if it was a bit of an ordeal - why open the garden you love, to which you've poured yourself into, to criticism? Albeit from an expert? I think you were brave and I'm glad that some of the advice reflected some of your own thoughts, but I do think you should be immensely proud of the garden you created for yourself and your family.

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    1. No it wasn't an ordeal Chris. It was fascinating and in many ways a privilege but it was also quite hard because what is here and what is in my head are still not the same so trying to explain and bring the two together without simply being an apologist for not much happening wasn't easy! I am very glad I did it though.

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    2. I'm glad, Elizabeth. I felt a bit protective of you as I read it so I'm pleased it was a positive experience! Cx

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  5. A very interesting post and what must have been a fascinating (if nerve-wracking) visit. A friendly and knowledgeable critic is a very useful acquaintance! I've started to look critically at our garden, and whilst it has led to some improvements, and some pleasure, it has also led to a vague annoyance at some areas I used to enjoy. My hands are a bit full to do anything for now - it'll probably have to contain a play area soon :(

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    1. Ah yes, I do recognise that vague annoyance! It was fascinating and strangely it wasn't really nerve wracking. Once I had decided to go with it I had decided to enjoy it and Anne and Charles were interested and perceptive (and sensitive too).

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  6. What a wonderful, (although slightly terrifying) visit. If anyone knows how to create gardens on the same scale as you it is Anne and Charles. The scale of your place is some times quite daunting (here 2 stipa's fill the bottom garden, at yours, they barely make a mark)

    This is probably the perfect time for them to visit - you are well on your way to creating your vision for the land you work and perhaps some of their thoughts and critical assessment will help you fine tune that vision. And, as you say, Anne knows a thing or two about scale, shape and form.

    I imagine, that they would have had a lovely overnight stay in your cottage, with its beautiful view, and you and Ian do hospitality so very well.
    K
    xx

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    1. It was wonderful and it was a good time too. Any earlier and it would have been too soon to have any sense at all of what was happening. Too much later and I suspect I might have struggled to see what could be for what is.

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  7. It is interesting when someone sees your garden and comments like that. I know when I visited you were worried about the size of the wildflower meadow. I find it hard to visualise things partly in terms of size so wasnt much use to you plus I am always worried about offending. I think Anne is probably right if you are going to have a wildflower meadow you should go for as big as you can.

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    1. Hi, yes she is right! The funny thing is it looked quite big to me before but now is clearly not big enough!

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  8. Wow. Not sure I could cope with "caustic". But very interesting (though I'd never heard of the lady).

    I'm amused by your saying you're a west/north person - I was imagining Sutherland and then you said NW England, which to me seems like the south... (we're in Edinburgh, which I think of as fairly south (compared to Shetland...)). All a matter of perspective.

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    1. She wasn't at all caustic although I have seen some examples of her writing where that would be the word! I know what you mean about perspective. I love Scotland but when I am not there I manage to forget how big it is!

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  9. Fabulous garden, and sounds like you got a lot out of the day :)

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  10. Gosh! Speaking as someone who doesn't really have a garden - a truly tiny courtyard garden barely counts - I am in awe of what you have achieved and hope to achieve. And how wonderful that you can benefit from the input of someone with such a good eye. I really enjoyed this blog post :D

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    1. The matter of eye is interesting Annie. I can see from your blog that you have it for wool and fabric in terms of colour and texture and shape. I wonder how transferable these abilities are from one discipline to another?

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  11. Never less garden! :) What an amazing/nervewracking experience! It is quite rare to have the opportunity to glean the opinion of an insightful and experienced critic, particularly useful when you are developing such a large area and when your vision wavers or is not quite concrete yet in places. Hard though too when you have invested so much of yourself, to open up to criticism. You're very brave, but I hope your courage has been rewarded already by reinforcing some of the ideas/answers that you already knew but had not voiced and saving you months of coming around to them yourself! If that makes sense!
    It's looking lovely from here. :)

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    1. You have put your finger on it - it is a rare opportunity so would have been mad not to take it, however nerve wracking! I do feel a combination of having been kicked on a bit, in a helpful way, with occasional bouts of total inadequacy, simultaneously encouraged and knackered!

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  12. I was waiting to find out what she said about the line of trees . . . I wish I hadn't read that the field was divided in three by native hedgehogs, it distracted me while I put my smiles back in order. You'll have a shepherd's hut! Hope my jealousy isn't clagging the clear Welsh air.

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    1. I wish I did have three native hedgehogs Lucy. Then I might not have three hundred thousand native slugs.

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  13. How extremely interesting - sometimes you need someone from outside to look and say 'why.....'. (Her comments on the extent of the meadow and on what to do with the trees sound very useful - but what a lot to process. I'd certainly go for it, myself - would love to see your meadow in its full glory, too, having viewed it when it was still bare earth. And that border looks lovely now it's filled out!

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    1. It was interesting - interesting in prospect, interesting while it happened and interesting to look back on. I am still processing.

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  14. You are creating a garden, and that process takes time, having met Anne and Charles I think they are genuinely interested in how people see a garden, and are just as nervous about The Veddw. It is such a personal thing, personal vision, but it is useful to have constructive criticism. Having seen Charles again recently they genuinely enjoyed their visit. MMM I think I would like to come and have a look soon.

    Paul.

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    1. I agree Paul. I think they have a great interest and curiosity about the way people interact with their gardens. If you are serious, you would be very welcome to come and look, as would anyone else who wanted to! There is less to see than you might think though!

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  15. now I have a fuller sense of your undertaking in the welsh hills and heartening to know by the prompts and suggestions that you're on the right track, or can see where the track should go! Fifties re the new 30s so you'll still have plenty of vim to complete the plan.The Shepherd's Hut sounds lovely - especially when made more secluded.

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    1. It is quite a hard thing to convey - the business of what we are trying to do up here. It must be compulsive though because when this blog began it was not a gardening blog at all and slowly it is becoming a garden heavy!

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  16. There is one large "upside" to having people come to visit and critique your garden. They go away. They go away, and you can select the bits of their advice that you agree with, and discard the rest, and go on and do your garden the way you feel it should be done. In the Harry Potter stories, "the wand chooses the wizard"... and I feel similarly about gardens. The earth tells the gardener what it needs, how it wants to be, and that is a very special relationship between that garden and that gardener. Others can opine all day long, but in the end it's the magic between land and the human heart that will emerge.

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    1. Ah now I like the "go away"! I had not thought of it like that. I am intrigued by how much you can understand in a single visit and how much you need to to spend time in the place. I suspect that Anne understood as much as a person possibly can in one visit because she has a lifetime of expertise and an unusual eye. As you say, I am the one who stays which is my strength but which also can make me one eyed from time to time.

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  17. You are brave, and your nerve paid off, as you've had some good feedback and a couple of 'aha' moments of your own.
    When I look at photos of gardens such as yours I know that I can't even call mine a garden. It is haphazard, and at best 'natural', being so much in the woods. Sometimes I feel that all I do is weed and push the forest back.
    I am looking forward to seeing a garden or two when I'm in your part of the world in September.

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    1. Sometimes I feel all I do is weed and push back against chaos too! I really hope you will come and see me when you are in my part of the world or let me come and see you!

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  18. Well, whatever it brought you, Elizabeth (I still can't feel right about how to call you - maybe because I am also an Elizabeth, though never used, and I like the full name..) it brought us a great visit - it was so good to meet you both.

    I desperately needed criticism - well, the garden still does, because it doesn't stand still - but especially when it was on its way but not fully formed. So I began asking for it and once or twice we got real revelations. That moment when you know what someone has said is spot on and though it's costly and disruptive you want to get it done this minute.

    I have written a bit about this if anyone is interested.
    http://veddw.com/annes-writing/being-criticised-by-anne-wareham/
    - http://veddw.com/annes-writing/seeing-the-garden-by-anne-wareham/

    Looking forward to what you will have to say about Veddw. And to seeing you both again.

    XXXXXX

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    1. Very much looking forward to seeing Veddw - how exciting! Will email you as to dates. The more time passes the more I am aware that we were very lucky indeed to have your input. Thank you.

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  19. Beautiful article and images!

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  20. Hi Elizabeth, I can understand only too easily how nerve-wracking your experience must have been. I recently had a visit from the Sussex NGS; I was very jittery indeed. It was a huge relief just how lovely the two ladies were (and not at all scary) and how much they loved the Priory garden. But as we walked around the grounds, I could see only the faults, the weeds, the failed areas, the developing areas, the still untouched areas, the disasters. I had expected that they would say something like: "Hmm, very nice but you need to do this and this and this before you are ready to open to the public." But they didn't and would like to open it next year. For various reasons (I won't bore you with), this may not happen but as reassuring as the visit was, I would have found it far more useful to have had an in-depth critique. The gardens are so very rarely visited that I would find such input invaluable. Well done for having the nerve, especially knowing that you would write about it too! Immensely rewarding experience, I should think. But cutting down an oak is a big ask!! Dave

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    1. It's an interesting balance isn't it? The reassurance is a good thing, especially in those periods when you are far from sure that you are doing the right thing, but sometimes a more detailed critique is far more helpful and not easy to find. I agree, cutting down an oak is a big ask, although it is only a little one just now. Still thinking about it!

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