Ian, the co-gardener for the past 18 years along with Sue, who has been gardening here at Nant y Bedd for the past 38 years, welcomed us cheerily to the garden on the afternoon we visited as part of the ‘Gardens in the Wild’ festival in June. Opening the door to the garden, we all said ‘Wow!’ and Ian laughed, telling us that on a recent visit to write about the garden, Sarah Price, the well-known designer and writer, had also opened the door and said ‘Wow!’.
What greets you is a flambuoyant Potager planting of perennials and annuals, all jostling for space and limelight. There is nothing modest here. And the surprise of it is enough to make you laugh. The rest of Nant y Bedd is equally full of surprise and risk-taking.
A substantial rope and slat bridge takes you from the little tearoom and the colour, to the other side of the bank and the beginning of the forest trail. Except that, before you set off into the woods, there is a wide open natural swimming pool, beautifully planted with water-lovers and equipped with a shepherd’s hut, ready for the post-swim cup of tea. Looking out from the pool, it feels as if you are on the roof of the forest, and the little boat made me think of the landscapes of Edward Hopper. Ian told us that he swims most days in the summer- a shortish season at 1200 ft up in the Black Mountains.
A winding path then takes you through the forest, dotted with objects, chairs to sit on in the landscape, sheep skulls eerily placed on tree trunks, down to the rushing water of the Gwynne Fawr river.
The garden is divided into two halves by the forest road. Ian and Sue’s house, on the other side, is wedged into the hillside, with the garden extending up and around it.
Ian must be a champion mower driver- the hillside mounts steeply behind the house, with sharply carved out beds crammed full of plants, using natives and good, tough perennials, ferns and shrubs, and immaculately trimmed and kept lawn everywhere. After the naturalistic rough and tumble of the Forest, the wild, colourful Potager and clean, cool swimming pool, the garden on the other side of the road presents something else. With the rocky waters of a stream tumbling through it, nevertheless Sue has created formality in shape and clean-cut lawn, whilst stuffing as much as she can into the planted areas. The contrast is wonderful, and yet another surprise.
I loved the surprise formality of the three grey pots with lollipop shaped standards in them against the house, see below, under-planted with Solierolia soleirolii, the mind your own business plant tumbing nicely. I have never tried this plant, but have it on good authority from a nurseryman in the Lake District that it is much tougher than you think- handling Lakes winters outside by going into dormancy and then growing back in the Spring.
Ian and Sue are passionate ecologists and conservationists. Their little by-donation, d-i-y tearoom is a delightful space, crammed with interesting books and pictures. And plants are for sale, all reproduced from plants in their garden- so it is very, very easy to spend three hours or more in the delightful company of their garden and their passion. Not to be missed.