Keith Whiley is a remarkable man. I first saw his work at The Garden House in Buckland Monachorum where he began his experiments with reshaping the land to recreate the natural plant habitats that he has observed around the world. His methods have not been without controversy, partly because they are so labour intensive and partly because his approach is so uncompromising. So when he had the opportunity to buy and develop his own piece of land ten years ago it was the perfect opportunity for him to stretch his ideas and theories to the limit – without the need to please anyone else. What he has done is astonishing – starting with a flat 4 acre field planted with cider apples, working alone with a hired digger, he has gouged out small-scale canyons, created hills and valleys and turned a piece of south-facing pasture into a landscape that includes north-facing slopes, sun-soaked scree and a series of lush natural ponds. In the process of doing all this earthmoving, he has rather miraculously increased the surface area so that it now covers 6 acres.
The adjoining fields show the local terrain
A small copse of cider apples have been retained to recall the garden’s history
Keith’s as yet unplanted ‘canyons’
It is still very much a work in progress, but as each habitat is completed to Keith’s satisfaction, he and his artist wife Ros add the plants. The variety is extraordinary – from cool and calm wooded acer glade to a magnificently floriferous interpretation of South African veldt, everywhere it is evident that there is a master plantsman – and woman – at work.
South African style planting – Keith is not a purist about using only South African plants – it is the effect he wishes to create
Planting on mounds creates the impression of maturity in quite young trees
Mediterranean planting elsewhere in the garden
A series of ponds lead into one another, giving the impression of a stream
Up until recently Wildside has been open occasionally, but it is now closed at least until the end of 2015 while the Whileys house is built on the site (they have been living in a temporary cabin for the past ten years) – and they decide what they want to do with the garden and nursery in the future. Earning a living seems to be of little interest beyond funding the ongoing work in the garden and keeping the wolf from the door, although they are now selling their plants at Alpine Garden Society Plant Fairs which has proved far more profitable than opening the nursery and garden for the occasional customer. I will be writing an extended feature about Wildside in a future issue of the excellent Hole & Corner magazine and will let you know when it is published.
This blue flax lily is useful in a very dry spot at the foot of a wall where it usually remains pretty inconspicuous amongst its showier companions, but this year’s conditions must really suit it because it has produced these fabulous, intensely blue berries. Some sources report that they are edible, but I’m certainly not going to try them!
I gave up growing acanthus some years ago because the leaves become so ugly in late summer when mildew takes hold and finishes of the job started by slugs and snails. On my recent visit to Glyndebourne I was very taken with gardener Dawn Aldridge’s in the Exotic Garden – she cuts off all the leaves and transforms the flowering stems into something much more interesting. This treatment also allows the new foliage to come through unimpeded.
Thompson & Morgan have been doing some research on growing potatoes in containers and have discovered that the deep bags that have been the standard method in recent years (and in my experience rather unsatisfactory) are far less productive than growing a single potato in an 8 litre bag. The confined quarters seem to stimulate many more tubers and save a lot of unnecessary compost. Their vegetable expert Colin Randall took me to see the trial where the bulging bags reminded me of tiny body builders in too tight t-shirts! He obligingly cut a bag open so that I could see the size of the crop and gave me the potatoes to bring home where I weighed them and found that the single seed potato had produced 1.57 kilos of potatoes. It was grown in a multipurpose compost with no further feeding. Thompson & Morgan have plans to market this growing system in the 8 litre bag with the seed potato already in the compost. All that will be needed is to cut the top off the bag and water thoroughly (and regularly) for your own potato harvest. Just perfect for tiny spaces and for showing children where the potatoes on their plates come from.
I’ve somehow never got around to running water to any point in the garden where we could have a proper water feature. In the meantime I make do with several pot ponds, but they are not the same. I do have a fantasy of transforming the lower part of the garden into an Italianate Garden with splashing water and formal planting but with the garage still waiting to be rebuilt and the vegetable garden in need of re-landscaping, it’s still very much a fantasy. In the meantime I might consider something closer to the house that could bring the sound of water to the garden for a more modest sum of money. In researching, I’ve found some very sleek and simple stainless steel water blades that create a falling sheet of water. I do like this effect, so while the builders are putting up the new garage, I will ask their advice. In my experience water features are a bit like kitchens – it’s not the bit you admire that takes time to install and costs the money – it’s the hidden stuff that makes it all work – so unless you are good at DIY, it’s best to consult the experts. I found a good range of Stowasis water blades at swelluk.com and there’s a phone number 0161 3514700 if you would like to find out more about their products.