A praise poem to the place by Elizabeth Musgrave

by AnneWareham on July 24, 2014

This is a personal email to me from a friend, so perhaps doesn’t belong as a review. But Elizabeth discusses and responds to that which is so important to me, and which is so much at the heart of the garden that I wanted it here.
I think what she has to say is important when so much garden writing and the garden shows are about ‘take away’. The garden is a celebration of place, and she sees that so clearly.
End of May 2013 059 evening sun through trees in woods (2)
Elizabeth Musgrave:

I am very surprised to see you saying that you thought I did not like the garden the first time.  I liked it very much indeed and identified with it very strongly. I thought I had said so but obviously not clearly enough!  It felt like my sort of place.

That, I think is the combination of some ingredients which Veddw and my garden share, such as the slope of the site and the wild nature of much of the planting and also the fact that Veddw is an intensely romantic garden, a form of praise poem to the place.  I can’t think of another garden I have visited which is so tied to its place, although Bodnant does something of on a grander scale.

I find this fascinating, because it is an answer to the challenge which is here too: how to create something which belongs.  It is impossible to imagine Veddw transplanted to another site.  Many gardens don’t have this at all.  They have been translated from the page to the ground and could just as easily be moved fifty miles or recreated somewhere else entirely. Yours could be nowhere else.   It is partly the deliberate tying of the garden to the surrounding landscape in your recreation of the pattern of fields and boundaries but it is also the way the shapes of hedges and paths and enclosures are dictated by the form of the land they grow from.  I very much like the way, when you are at the bottom by the house, the garden rises above you  like a natural amphitheatre and I like the way the trees which surround the top of the garden link you into the surrounding, non garden landscape.

Some of the surrounding trees...

Some of the surrounding trees…

In the middle of all this controlled naturalism, the reflecting pool is a delightful shock, very quiet, calm, with none of the rest of the garden’s overflow and exuberance.  I love it but I can see that not every one would think it belonged.  For me it works because the reflection brings the trees on the boundary back into the garden.  It wouldn’t work if it were a natural pond or a formal pond full of koi carp.  It works because it is a reflecting pool and its presence both contrasts with and emphasises the trees around it.

The pool brings the trees into the garden in a similar fashion to the way the willowherb in the planting brings in the surrounding landscape. So the garden is both a world in itself, nurturing, enclosed, a retreat, and a place anchored in its history and its place, referring back out to the South Wales landscape it sits in.

Reflecting Pool, Veddw, copyright Anne Wareham

I appreciate that everyone brings themselves to any form of creative work so that I might find something speaking to me in a poem which the poem allows for without it necessarily being the writer’s overriding intention.  I know I am very interested in place and perhaps because I see the gardens as so very rooted in its place.

The one part of the garden which does not work so well for me is the area of cardoon and heuchera. I liked it better this time than I did last. Last time I think the cardoons had been cut down, so this time it was easier to see that there is a playful element in the planting which is quite fun. So I see that, and it did make me smile. But for me this is the only area of the garden which could be replicated, transplanted, moved elsewhere and be anywhere. So it strikes a different note, a discordant note for me. It belongs in another poem.

Veg Plot Veddw copyright Anne Wareham

So there you are, a judgement of sorts!  I love Veddw.  I want a garden to move me.  I don’t want it to be a plant collection.  I don’t want it to be too clever or tricksy.  I don’t want it to be an outside room, another place to demonstrate good taste and money.  I don’t want it to feel like looking at a Victorian painting of a cottage with roses round the door:  over familiar, sentimental, pretty but ultimately blending into an image of English gardens which is pleasantly forgettable.  Veddw moves me.  Not many gardens do.  I am trying to think of the last garden which did and it is probably Levens Hall.  I also love and am moved by parts of The Garden House.
Elizabeth Musgrave
Elizabeth’s blog and website (including details of her delightful holiday cottage) – Welsh Hills Again


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Cynthia reyes July 24, 2014 at 6:43 pm

A lovely letter.
And you’ve done such a great job with your gardens.
Congrats to you both.

AnneWareham July 24, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Thank you – and Elizabeth, once more.

Paul Steer July 24, 2014 at 9:17 pm


AnneWareham July 24, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Thank you, Paul. Xxx

Jane Stevens July 25, 2014 at 8:58 am

Absolutely right, and very well described. Sensing the belonging is perhaps the most fertile way of measuring a garden’s rightness, impact and beauty. We know it, but we so often forget it. The vision is so easily lost and enclosure and concealment let us off the hook. Then we’re into havens and paradisial retreats, thence the takeaway and put it anywhere.

Now, as to doors and roses – in places of doors and roses, surely they too are of their place? The point must be to do it well and somehow make it new, or in some way distilled.

Neither of you gardens in suburbia – how to confront anonymous, dreary, repetitive, man-made surroundings if not with the takeaway? First find your gorgeous place must be the answer.

AnneWareham July 25, 2014 at 9:14 am

I wonder – does it have to be a gorgeous place? I am wondering, not challenging there – but suburbia has great power of its own. I do like “The point must be to do it well and somehow make it new, or in some way distilled.”.

Your comment has had me sitting here thinking for a long time…How do we escape ‘take away’? Does it matter? Maybe it only matters if you are wanting to make a garden that is more than decorative or functional?

Janet/Plantaliscious July 25, 2014 at 11:30 am

What a beautiful piece of writing, Elizabeth captures that elusive “sense of place” so well. I’ve not had the opportunity to visit Veddw myself but have been fascinated by the philosophy behind it, the echoing of fields and boundaries, the embracing of the wild landscape. Developing a new garden with a view of the sea, I am still trying to get to grips with what a sense of place might mean here, on a much smaller scale, without descending in to cliché or trying to mimic beach or cliffs too closely. Much food for thought.

AnneWareham July 25, 2014 at 11:41 am

It is challenging – especially the sea with so many clichés to contend with. I think you could maybe do as I did here and investigate closely the history of your particular bit. Or go somewhere else entirely in your imagination – like exploring where music dedicated to the sea, or the Tempest..And then see what our psyche makes of it…

Cherie Southgate July 26, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Sadly I haven’t had the chance to visit Veddw yet but I found this letter from Elizabeth so entrancing that I’m trying to work on a way to extend a visit to Shrewsbury scheduled for the end of August so that I may see it for myself. Thank you Anne for sharing the letter and to Elizabeth for penning it in the first place. I am filled with anticipation. Cherie

AnneWareham July 26, 2014 at 9:46 pm

I am now terrified Veddw will disappoint! Amazing how easy it is to get screwed up…. Look forward to meeting you and we’ll do our best to keep it good..

J Sherry July 31, 2014 at 6:30 pm

A beautiful piece of writing by Elizabeth Musgrave.
You have always made clear in your writings that your aim has been to embed the garden you have created at Veddw in its place & in its history, and judging by Elizabeth’s comments, you have succeeded.
As has already been said, Elizabeth’s comments certainly do make one want to visit Veddw.

AnneWareham July 31, 2014 at 6:36 pm

It is a beautiful piece of writing – I feel a bit cheap using it to publicise the garden, but at the same time it is so good in every way that to hide Elizabeth’s light under a bushel (wonderful odd expression, that..) didn’t feel possible. Hope it brings her a lot of new blog readers.

Karen Hall September 7, 2014 at 6:38 pm

I have enjoyed Elizabeth’s writing for some years now – and I listen to what she says. Anne, if I don’t get to Veddw next year, I know I am missing out on “something” and I am looking forward to seeing what that “something” is for me.

AnneWareham September 7, 2014 at 10:12 pm

You’ll be missing out on tea and cake with me! Let me know if you’re coming, so that you don’t?