With the four days of our long Jubilee weekend in hand I made for the hills of Carmarthenshire, along with nearest and dearest, to stay with my parents. They live off the winding path of the river Towy, at the base of the valley in South, West Wales. The setting is beautiful, saturated (literally) in green, and is where I spent a year learning how to be a gardener, and building my first garden.
Although the cottage had been our family holiday camp for over a decade, it was only then being extended into the full house it is now, and so fresh out of University, with debts and a degree, I came home and got stuck into the exterior. During the build, which essentially saw the house gutted out and put back together, the surrounding garden was flattened and spread to mud. Deciding that gardening sounded like a ‘sensible’ career move, I took up a course at the Royal Botanical Gardens of Wales (conveniently a half hour’s cycle up the road) and spent any remaining time having a go at creating a new garden for my parents.
It was also very much an open book in terms of design, and is therefore full of mistakes and first attempts; it was a great experience and an opportunity to smash things together, on a relatively small scale, learning in the process. My uncle showed me the basics of cement and concrete mixing, so I began with a wall, and things went from there, ideas slowly forming into a vague structure.
Three years on and it’s great to see how the little garden has settled. The initial perennial planting now dominates, while shrubs are still just getting established. The climbers are making their way up and the stone is dulling into deeper greens and purples. I love returning to see it whenever I can, and be reminded of all my naive and simple ideas, carved out while getting to grips with a new and daunting medium. The place will always feel more special than any other garden I live or work in, in the same way, I would imagine, that every first garden experiment is to a gardener. And although it’s in very good and capable hands (who have done lots more too, I should add) I can’t stop myself getting out the spade and fussing over it a little whenever I come home.
An ambitious example of my then newly attained wall-constructing experience was to put a fire place into the far corner of the decked area in the right angle of the wall. The idea was for it to be used for bbq’s and general fires for long Summer evenings. It’s definitely a fire hazard, and will most likely be the undoing of the decking, but we put it to good use during the one warm evening of the weekend.
Walking with family through the wind on the arbitrary post-Christmas (yet always enjoyed) march over the beach. An unexpected joy to see nothing but rolling sea-buckthorn, in full profusion of berry, and at it’s peak in soft winter colour. The shrub offers a huge amount in terms of coastal habitat formation and support; with its protective thorny network of low intertwining branches and extensive fruit larder.
Sea buckthorn has been widely planted around beeches due to the way in which its roots spread, enabling it to hold together the shifting dunes, much like alders and willows do with our river banks.