Wild gardening, Veddw style.

by AnneWareham on July 19, 2013

Post image for Wild gardening, Veddw style.

At this time of year I make a point of getting away to see what other people are doing in their gardens and it always prompts a great deal of thinking. One thing I got preoccupied with this year was tidiness and the wild.

I cheerfully say to visiting coach parties that I garden Veddw so that it is comfortable in the surrounding countryside. And that this is not simply about tolerating, or even encouraging, some weeds; it is about managing a dialogue between what we might term ‘natural’ and that which we think of as ‘gardened’. People often nod enthusiastically, but when I visit gardens and see how much control people wish to inflict upon their patches I begin to think that they must actually find Veddw quite shocking, if not incomprehensible.

Crescent Border, Veddw, July 2012 copyright Anne Wareham

Crescent Border, Veddw, weeds and flowers…

At Veddw I try to get the various different parts to merge more; to talk to each other. For example, where the meadow ends by a particular path, I have the other side of the path sexed up with geraniums, honesty, roses and the like, comfortably mingling with meadow plants which have seeded there – otherwise and in other contexts known as weeds. This avoids a stark contrast while creating a sufficiently different look to the far side of the path.

Meadow edging  Veddw copyright Anne Wareham

Best illustration I could find of meadow and the other side of the path..

When I first started making the garden I mulched the ground to clear it and planted into the nearest I could get to weed free empty ground. But more recently I have planted into the existing grassland – not just the usual bulbs, which we have in the meadow, but tough perennials which manage to fight out a living with the existing meadow plants. The land was almost all all rough grazing when we arrived, and appears to have been unploughed for the past two hundred years, so there is a rich mix of meadow plants. Which are not all, despite the popular epithet ‘wild flower meadows,’ flowers. Some are grasses, there are ferns and there are other foliage things with effectively invisible flowers that botanists can identify for me.

Wild garden, Veddw copyright Charles Hawes

More Wild Garden

If a weed/wild flower is vigorous, healthy and at least half good looking, it will probably stay. A large part of my gardening is looking carefully at how things are working together and what they are contributing and then removing, culling or encouraging accordingly. And then having fights with Charles about whether it works or looks too weedy. Or has a weed that he loathes, like a certain very pretty yellow vetch, which likes to scramble. (That can be a bad look, like bindweed can).(but I rather like that vetch…)

Bad vetch, Veddw copyright Anne Wareham .

Bad vetch

The greatest thing which separates the garden from total wild and woolly are the hedges and the mown grass.I don’t want the flowery bits to be segregated from the grass, so tough plants sprawl over the edges and the mower keeps the parting – and keeps it invisible. The grass is clearly never ‘lawn’ with the so frowned upon lack of ecological variety – it is mown grassland and has its share of clover and daisies and more mysterious things. It has been cut weekly in the summer and never fed in 26 years and survives. But it doesn’t look like lawn. To play with the wild/gardened  theme I recently began to allow a strip of the grass to grow into its meadow self along the Yew Walk.

Hedge Strip beside Yew Walk at Veddw copyright Anne Wareham

Hedge Strip beside Yew Walk. Yes, it gets squashed when the hedge is cut…

And the hedges are for many people, and me certainly in winter, the essence of the garden. They provide the sharp, the contrast, the declaration that this is a garden. The ‘wow’. And the major effort and expense.

Hedges, Veddw copyright Charles Hawes


The trick and the problem with retaining  a piece of the ‘wild’ – let us call it that for the time being, though of course it isn’t – is incorporating it harmoniously and coherently. That means that you will have problems if you garden like this:

Not Veddw copyright Anne Wareham .

Not Veddw.

Because anything which looks a bit loose and rough will stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. You will be confronting the style of your garden with something totally inappropriate. But wouldn’t you rather be a bit wild instead?

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James Golden July 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm

I find the word ‘weed’ has become almost meaningless in my garden. So many of my ‘garden’ plants behave like weeds, and so many of my ‘weeds’ (native or wild plants endemic to the area) have become garden plants. Only the unattractive plants I consider irretirevably lacking in aesthetic value are ‘weeds’ to me–Canada thistle, bindweed, multiflora rose, Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimenium), the most aggressive solidagos. I do edit and control where my weeds grow to maintain order and visual legibility, but lacking the ordered hedges of Veddw, this is a risky game. A good analogy is Robert Frost’s description of writing free verse as playing tennis with the net down.

AnneWareham July 19, 2013 at 1:10 pm

This is about so much more than plant selection though. It is about a look (which you embrace an aspect of) which still seems totally un British. Gardens here tend to the pretty and to the the mega control of all within the borders. Apart, these days, from an occasional token ‘meadow’ looking like a stain on the rug.

I’m not sure how I feel about it without the framing that hedges (or the net!) offer. Noel’s is like that and it’s kind of formless. AW.

James golden July 19, 2013 at 1:55 pm

I would say that one can have order and structure by careful manipulation of forms, masses, voids, textures, etc. that speak to each other, much as one musical phrase can answer another, to use another analogy. In my case the surrounding trees form an enclosing border, somewhat akin to your hedges, though I admit very different. To use other analogies, I might compare my garden to certain elements of a Japanese rock garden in which the elements bear an aesthetic relationship to one another; the rocks ‘speak’ to one another. Or I might make an analogy to some abstract painting in which the elements of the painting also ‘speak’ to each other. I believe one can make an aesthetically successful garden without lines or grids of hedges (and here I’m not making reference to the 18th century English landscape gardens) by paying attention to other garden elements. I do agree that a field simply planted with attractive plants is not necessarily a garden. I can’t speak to your remark about Noel’s garden having only seen bits in photographs. But here I’m speaking of two very different approaches. And I’m not so much disagreeing with you as using what you say to clarify my own thoughts.

AnneWareham July 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm

You are absolutely right, of course, James – hedges are not the only trick. But I think form, contrast, framing matters. And that framing could be the sky: think of a massive field full of grasses and flower – flat maybe but framed by the sky and horizon. It could be rocks, mountains, a city wall…AW

bernhard July 20, 2013 at 9:56 am

And it is a very personal affair and difficult to define. Some have it and others don’t, even if they try to be wild. I thought along those lines on another visit to East Ruston last year. Coming via more or less left-alone (as far as that is possible in agricultural Norfolk) footpaths and “valleys”, their approach to wild gardening looked forced and “untrue”. Like planted Pound notes for busload-visitors to gaze at “unspoilt” nature. So even when some established gardeners play the wild card it looks untrue.

Your approach to “managing” your gardens (I must make it one day) is both most beautiful and sensible even if this implies occasional struggles about the odd vetch. I know these discussions from gardening with my wife, and we are, perhaps, both right (or wrong). A similar vision with an occasional different approach to detail. (See http://gardendrum.com/2012/07/13/marital-companion-planting/ and sorry about the staking, it was a five- minutes-a–day-garden)

As far as I can judge from your pictures and the map, the reassuring hedging framework indeed encourages an improvising approach. A danger might be when the enclosure between hedges becomes too narrow and one needs to keep the planting within simple. I compared this (our?) type of gardening with jazz recently: To plan ahead but not stick to the plan, react to “events”, incorporate them and try to find a harmony without depending on the score…

May a ask a technical question: Did you compose these hedge curves right from the beginning (perhaps with different sizes) or did you cut into them after a certain age?

AnneWareham July 20, 2013 at 10:46 am

I love the jazz analogy – spot on. And I think you are right about East Ruston (http://thinkingardens.co.uk/reviews/east-rushton-old-vicarage-reviewed-by-sara-maitland-and-anne-wareham/) which felt to me far too contrived and tight to manage wild. (Such a problem word that, though.. like ‘real’) O – and I imagine it helps to not have professional, trained gardeners in control of the work.)

We arrived at a similar arrangement to yourself and your wife, but it worked out very differently. We agreed consultation with a final veto in particular places (the his and hers) but in reality I designed the lot under the watchful and active supervision of a garden photographer, with a good ‘eye’ and same tastes and preoccupations.

The hedges were shaped from the start, which was difficult and weird, but I didn’t want drastic cutting back. I think either way might work. (for Alan Titchmarsh’s version see here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/9465064/My-garden-on-TV-Never-again-Alan-Titchmarsh.html- straight off the van!)

Hope you do get here!

bernhard July 20, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Yes, let’s invigorate “the sense of beauty” of the amateur (so reassuring in its literal meaning). Which does not mean not paying attention to what “professionals” are doing.
One constantly learns that this used to be a British strength and your creation most certainly proves that. I have always found it so fitting that Beth Chatto isn’t a trained gardener.

I agree with the problem of problem words: Inverted commas only seem to work for a short while…

(We only passed your area on an additional “coach day” recently and I was a little frightened, but will make up in due course)

AnneWareham July 20, 2013 at 5:23 pm

You passed by and didn’t come in??? That makes me feel very sorry.

I have felt for years that we have lost our respect for the amateur and for being one (Darwin was one, of course) – in the original and highly British sense. A shame. There have been many excellent women amateur garden makers, now totally eclipsed by star designers – 85% male.

(Beth Chatto has the advantage over me of not having alienated the entire British garden establishment!) XXXx

bernhard July 20, 2013 at 6:59 pm

No, it wasn’t that extreme. While planning the route into Wales I just thought a Sunday would eventually be better (which wasn’t possible this time) instead of squeezing in on a coach occasion. Sorry.

Sara July 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm

“If a weed/wild flower is vigorous, healthy and at least half good looking, it will probably stay.” Isn’t this what most gardening is? The best way to find out what can tolerate the conditions is to let stuff grow and keep the ones you like. I got back from a short trip a few weeks ago and found everything in a satisfyingly weedy condition that allowed me to simply remove the bits I didn’t like and still end up with gardens that looked full and varied. Now I just need a self-mowing lawn…

AnneWareham July 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Sounds good. It is still worth some thinking about what you put in yourself in the first place…?

Paul Steer July 21, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Those hedges are wow, and I love the wild being incorporated into a garden. I doubt you have alienated everyone, using wild plants is now cutting edge. Since our visit to Veddw, and having visited more gardens, I appreciate what you have done there more and more.

AnneWareham July 21, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Thank you Paul. It’s perhaps not my wildness that alienates people, so much as my being too demanding.. It is very heartening to hear your appreciation of Veddw. XXxx

Cathy Thompson July 22, 2013 at 9:34 pm

I was inspired by your book – now by your blog. This is really good reading (comments too) – the stuff we all want – a combination of inspirational and totally practical. Particularly your thoughts about mowing. I’ve done the ‘this is border, that be wild’ for a long while now, but it is much more difficult in our current garden because of steep slopes. I’m encouraged by your example to make sure I sort out the right planting/machinery so that I can carry on.
Re weeds – in my opinion you only achieve the liberty of choosing when you have gardened a plot for more than seven years or so (yes, I’m thinking of the old saying). There’s no trouble differentiating in my garden at the moment – they are still mostly VERY BAD weeds. But it’s nice to read comments from people who have the luxury of choice!
Anyway – keep on being realistic and inspiring other folk like me! And I hope that I’ll be able to visit Veddvw eventually, having been encouraged from afar!

AnneWareham July 22, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Thank you, Cathy! That 7 years saying was based on seeding: mulching keeps down seeding of both desirable plants and weeds (except cleavers, which seems to have a special ‘get through anything’ mechanism.) That and close planting of vigorous plants helps a lot I believe.
And I do hope I’ll meet you here before too much longer. Xxx

Tristan Gregory July 24, 2013 at 6:16 pm

It’s a tricky game this allowing of natural processes into the garden and its scheme.

This year I have been caught out by being too slow to take control of the woodland meadows which in the drought and heat have burned brown and will now re-green after their mowing very slowly but never mind at least the buttercup and ground elder are relinquishing some of their gains of 2012.

AnneWareham July 28, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Tricky – but that’s the dance…

Jon August 2, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Good blog, thanks! I’m always a fan of things not looking too neat -reminds me of the excellent little book ‘No nettles required’ by Ken Thompson which argues that this sort of approach is actually much better for encouraging wildlife than entirely wild spaces.

AnneWareham August 2, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Thank you.That is a great title and a very sane book, I believe.