A Walk on the Wildside28th August 2014 • Stephanie's Blog • Stephanie Donaldson
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.