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    A Walk on the Wildside

    28th August 2014Stephanie's BlogStephanie 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.
    another lush field looking verdant
    The adjoining fields show the local terrain
    view across lush green field
    A small copse of cider apples have been retained to recall the garden’s history

    view of unplanted canyons view across canyons with pools

    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.

    mixed planting with grasses

    South African style planting – Keith is not a purist about using only South African plants – it is the effect he wishes to create
    mediterannean planting

    Planting on mounds creates the impression of maturity in quite young trees

    modern planting with grasses

    Mediterranean planting elsewhere in the garden

    planting on mounds with ponds 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.

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