Garden Overview and History

For visitors to the website who have never visited our garden, I thought it would be helpful to give a little background history and information about its’ layout and development, since it forms the backdrop to nearly all my writing and photography. (At last in September 2014, I’ve got round to updating this section – it’s surprising how the garden has changed in the last 3 years!)

The garden has been created gradually by us over the 24 years that we have owned Gelli Uchaf. Hand in hand with restoring the derelict buildings of our C17th Welsh longhouse home came the task of creating a garden sympathetic to the landscape and location, bearing in mind that we are 800 feet above sea level, receive on average over 70 inches (1780 mm) rainfall per annum and get air temperatures down to minus 18 degrees C in winter, and rarely above 30 degrees C in summer. In 2015 we topped this with 2105 mm annually and 534 mm in December alone, significantly eclipsing even the monthly record maximum of 417 mm from December 2013. Fortunately 2016 saw a more benign 1600 mm.

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( Line Drawing of Gelli Uchaf Garden, 2013.Thanks to Fiona, for all this hard work).

(Gelli Uchaf as found in July 93)

The garden has evolved over this long period without any grand plan, but as a result of seeing what works and what doesn’t up here. It has become a very special challenge for us and is at last, after all these years, taking shape and parts of it are beginning to fulfil their potential, but will continue to evolve with our gardening tastes, as we continue to discover successes and failures, and increasingly as plants mature and die…

Our “Garden Impressionists” name comes from the inspiration we received from a single visit to Monet’s garden at Giverny many years ago. This led to a significant change in how we’ve subsequently developed and planted up the garden…

 We were amazed by the vibrant intermingling colour schemes in the formal part of Giverny’s design, and how this area was humming with insects on the warm, sunny, early May day that we visited. Insect friendly flowers, the use of native flowers and multicultural, multi layered plantings with perennials, bulbs and shrubs in order to maximise flower numbers throughout the year, has become our goal. Understanding the key role that insects have in our garden environment has become hugely important to us. Simultaneously we’ve tried to maintain a less formal feel in the garden, appropriate to its rural setting.
SDIM2900 (2)The house, barns and roughly 1.25 acres of garden are at the centre of an upland smallholding in North Carmarthenshire (Wales, UK). With a stream, Afon Melinddw, and two natural ponds below, and a hill rising beyond the property eventually to Mynydd Llanllwni, it presents a varied canvas of micro climates and conditions. About 6 acres of the land are being managed to encourage wild flower and greater species diversity. Much of the land is steeply sloping to the East and South and although this gives huge advantages in terms of views as far as the Brecon Beacons (on a clear day), it does mean that sections of the garden have quite steep paths.

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For  ‘Just-A-Minute-Chill-Out-Clips’ of video with natural sound from the garden, please click on the following link to a sample May video from ‘ImpressionistGarden’  on You Tube :  …

We were fortunate to inherit many mature trees within the site (hence the appropriate and descriptive property name of Gelli Uchaf – ‘the upper little grove’), and which we have been able to use in creating the several distinct areas of garden in the immediate surroundings of the house. The topsoil is naturally very shallow and lies over shale in all of the garden, although the lower fields are soil, clay and peat. Our natural spring water is consistently below a pH of 5 (i.e. very acid). The garden has developed into the following areas, each with a largely very different feel, planting scheme and micro-climate, mainly because of the sloping nature of the landscape. These include:

  • A free draining Multicultural Magic Terrace garden with naturalistic and increasingly diverse planting with spring bulbs, and seating, shown below through the seasons…

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  • A sheltered shrubbery including many late season nectar rich plants such as Sedum and Buddleia, as well as Viburnum, Clematis, Roses, Fuchsia and Spring bulbs.

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  • A shady ‘amphitheatre’ bed with Hamamelis, Hellebore, Hydrangea, and spring bulbs…SDIM5424 (2)

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  • A ‘crazy’, mossy croquet lawn, surrounded by shrub/perennial beds, again with many Hydrangea plants, herbaceous perennials and spring bulbs.

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  • A woodland copse garden with Camellia, Skimmia, Pieris, Rhododendron, Azalea, Acer, Hydrangea, and thousands of spring bulbs and Cyclamen.SDIM5669 (2)SDIM5246 (2)

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  • A more formal terrace, with tubs and seating…

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  •  An experimental, unique Retyred Matrix fruit and flower garden with many different apple cultivars, lots being grown with a unique spiral method of training. This area is also gradually developing as a display feature for some of our more unusual snowdrop cultivars, of which we now have over 220 different forms. This part of the garden won second prize in the inaugural “Greener Gardening Ideas” competition sponsored by the National Trust, Yorkshire Bank, and Daily Telegraph in 2009.SDIM7405 (2)

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  • A lower Meadow Copse with masses of snowdrops, daffodils, Primula, Hydrangeas and other shrub and tree plantings for autumn colour and foliage interest. This area also contains many of the increasing collection of snowdrops from my historic Welsh snowdrop project, which gets added to every year. Interesting flower variations if you are interested in the minutiae of snowdrop detail, but even more fascinating human stories behind lots of the locations we have visited. (Click here for more).

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  • About 11 acres of meadows with stream, natural ponds and meadow walks. Some 6 acres of these are being managed for greater wildflower and other species diversity. Beginning to restore these (some from shoulder high mono-culture soft rush), into wonderfully diverse habitats has been one of our major focuses in 2012-2016. I also currently manage a blog/website for the Carmarthenshire Meadows Group, which may be of interest to readers, and encouraging more flowers into our own meadows is an ongoing project here. Click here for more …SDIM7722 (2)SDIM7895 (2)SDIM8125 (2)SDIM8142 (2)SDIM2384 (2)SDIM8120 (2)SDIM2393 (2)SDIM8313 (2)SDIM8309 (2)SDIM9361 (2)SDIM9394 (2)SDIM7386 (3)

As you might work out from the photos above, we have a generally naturalistic planting style in most of the garden, and are especially keen to grow plants which support a diverse wildlife ecosystem in the garden. We’re strong advocates of plants that attract insects and invertebrates, since these are often at the base of the food chain for higher and more obvious wildlife, and in the past we have given illustrated talks to interested clubs or groups on this subject. (See separate blog page above).

We grow a number of native plants which we find are excellent at attracting insects, and our gardening tends to be predominantly organic with no pesticide or fungicide use in the garden. Since we try to be as self sufficient in fruit and vegetables as possible, we do resort to some slug control, and occasionally judiciously use systemic herbicides when starting work on new areas of the garden. From 2015, in view of our high annual rainfall, we have made occasional use of dried seaweed as a source of trace minerals, which are likely to be easily leached out of our sloping land. My impression is that flower and foliage colours have improved as a consequence.SDIM9673 (2)

We have a number of varieties of several plant groups including Hydrangea, Ilex (holly), Saxifrage, Clematis, over 220 snowdrop cultivars, over 130 different daffodils (particularly vintage cultivars) and many climbing roses. Historically we have not employed any external help within the garden, although we do use tree surgeons for major tree work, but for the first time in late 2017 we’ve been delighted to welcome William as a helper around the garden and fields, for one day a week, which is a considerable aid with the few remaining projects we envisage completing.

In November 2017 we were thrilled to find the garden was one of just 3 in Wales, and 13 in the UK to feature in Claire Takacs stunning book of 70 gardens from around the globe, titled “Dreamscapes”...

Below are a few of the comments made by visitors to the garden, since we have opened it to the public under the National Gardens Scheme in 2010 (please see separate page above for visiting information). 

‘An oasis of calm and beauty’       NW Brechfa

‘What a beautiful place, so lovely and such magic here’         VW Pontyberem                    
‘Wondrous garden. Thanks for your hospitality’ Carol Klein & Gardener’s World Team Feb 2016


‘Hard work – beautiful results!’           JB Oregon USA

‘Fabulous garden and wonderful welcome! – delightful touches to the garden – paths, steps, and furniture – Many thanks.’         S4C Wedi 3 Film Crew

‘Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge – beautiful garden.’ KW Mynydd  March 2016

‘Fascinating hillside garden, beautifully done’   GC  Cilgerran Feb 2016.

‘Lovely spending time in your absolutely beautiful garden’. Claire Takacs, IGPOTY winning photographer, Melbourne May 2016

‘As soon as you step out onto the terrace in front of the house – a riotous tapestry of low growing ground-cover plants – it becomes immediately apparent that this is no ordinary garden. Delve a little deeper and you find that this is a garden that brings together real technical innovation and creativity in a way that is all too rare’. Noel Kingsbury Gardens Illustrated magazine June 2017.

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‘Beautiful and inspirational – a hidden gem of a garden’           A & M  Cilycwm

‘Magic around every corner’      SC Milford Haven

‘They have use colour densely and vibrantly as an impressionist painter might. Drifts of small flowers mimic painting techniques such as pointillism – painting with small dots of colour; foliage patterns resemble short, distinct brush strokes while the changing light, shadow and the moving season is a constant feature, making the garden as fresh and original as the ground-breaking French impressionists themselves.’  Naomi Slade – Amateur Gardening Magazine

‘Inspiring. Truly wonderful. Such toil and commitment’. D,P&P Abergorlech May 2013.

Truly wonderful. Gardens within a garden and amazing plants and natural effects’. M.T. Salem W.I. Group visit. June 2013SDIM7526 (2)

‘A truly magical garden.Thanks for your hospitality’. G.J.&.P. Llandrindod Wells. July 2013

‘Truly inspiring and informative morning. So much to see and learn.Lovely country garden and meadows’ C&C Esgairdawe July 2017

‘Fantastic meadows and garden. Learnt a lot from visiting.’  BC Gloucestershire. July 2017

‘Amazing!’  JF. S.Africa August 2013

‘Fantastic Achievement. We will be back!’ J.W.A. Cellan October 2013 SDIM3686 (2)

Beautifully inspiring garden and lovely artwork’. A.W. Llandybie March 2014

‘Looking forward to a return visit later in the year.’ J. Kidwelly March 2014

‘Stunning Garden and impressive work’ S.K. Hampshire April 2014

‘Extremely interesting – a lot of work, effort and ingenuity well rewarded.’ R.E. Ystradynglais April 2014 

‘ Would like to see the garden in every season’. E.R.D. Llanfair Clydogau April 2014SDIM6804 (2)

Thank You. What an amazing garden. Inspiring.’ K&P London May 2014

Magical’ BW Llangadog June 2014

‘Beautiful day, wonderful setting, inspirational garden and photography’. P&C Talsarn June 2014

‘Inspirational! A tribute to years of hard physical effort plus sensitive thoughtful design.’ H&S Cardigan July 2014 SDIM8511 (2)

The garden and a scaled down version of the blog was one of 3 finalists in The English Garden’s quest to find Britain’s Best “Green and Gorgeous Garden” awarded at the 2013 Hay Literary and Arts Festival. Click here for details. And rated as one of 10 secret gardens of Wales to visit by the Western Mail, and Wales On-Line in April 2014. Click here for more. It also featured in the opening spring programme of BBC 2’s Gardener’s World for 2016. Click here. And the June 2017 edition of Gardens Illustrated magazine.

Some of the images Julian has taken over the years in the garden have formed the basis for a unique range of silk scarves which we design and Fiona makes here. Click here for the separate webpage which features the scarves.

We have an interesting small range of plants available for visitors to purchase at reasonable prices, based on our Gelli Uchaf Planting Palette (see separate web pages).. We only grow plants which we enjoy and which thrive here, and much in the garden has indeed been propagated by us, including many trees from seeds and perennials from cuttings and divisions. We now have a small unheated greenhouse, but all of our plants have to survive in our climate without any real cosseting, and are grown in our own soil/leaf-mould based compost to avoid buying in much in the way of planting materials.

The award winning documentary film, ‘Epiphany In Translation’, made by Julian throughout 2010 was filmed at Gelli Uchaf. (See separate website page by clicking here for details). Julian also made a film in 2017 “Soft Rush- A growing Problem” about our battle to restore species diversity to our lower we meadows.

In addition over 90% of the moths and butterflies pictured in our DVD ROM guide to garden moths and butterflies, ‘In a Different Light’, have been found at or within 500 metres of our home, and most have been photographed here. All the plant images in the DVD-ROM and our greetings card images were taken here. (See the separate website page of all the moth species images by clicking here for details).

Thanks for reading. And do browse around the rest of the website pages.

Last updated 14/12/2017



17 thoughts on “Garden Overview and History

  1. Your views are stunning, I had no idea of beautiful your garden was until reading this page. So much to take in, what an absolute joy living here must be.

    • Thanks Julie. We love living in what we consider to be a ‘Lle arbennig’ – a special place. Much of the time it is indeed a joy to live here. Days like today ( 8/02/2015) with clear blue skies after a hard frost, and stunning sunrise, the first honeybees of the year foraging on the Crocus flowers, and the scent from Daphne bholua pervading the air, remind us of this real joy. There are times when we remember such blissful days!
      Best wishes

    • Hello Inese,
      That’s a very kind comment, and we do enjoy, and enjoy sharing with others either physically or through the blog, the garden. But the ‘amazing’ description belongs more to the plants, the insects, the animals, the fungi beneath the soil, which allows this sort of harmony (though harmony is too idealistic and romantic a word) to flourish. The longer I observe and think about all of these natural intricacies, the more amazing they all seem to be! As I know you’ll agree.
      Best wishes

    • Hello Iona,
      Thanks for the comment. I wonder when you lived at Gelli? Over the years, we’ve gradually found out more about its past history, and interesting snippets – like the old field names, have only come to light recently. If you still live locally and would like to visit your old home sometime, do let us know.
      But it truly is a magical place – many visitors say that they sense something special about it – and we feel very privileged and fortunate to have been able to be a part of its long history,
      Best wishes

  2. Dear Julian. We are friends of Victoria & Nick Croftham-Wadham. Vic suggested I come to see what you have achieved in your garden. Having spotted Gelli Uchaf in the NGS leaflet I would love to come and visit but I see you only accept groups of 6 or more. Would you consider a smaller group at any time? It may only be myself and a friend I’m afraid. I have quite a challenge on my hands… We live on Llanllwni Mountain (approx 1000 ft) and have a bare, sloping “garden” (patch of grass at the moment!) which is pretty much stone underneath (it used to be a farm courtyard). The view is spectacular and I would love the garden to blend into it. My problem is that I have very little gardening experience and am somewhat daunted by the project in front of me! I am really hoping for some advice as to which plants and flowers will survive in this elevated, exposed position/climate. I hope you can help – I’m completely in awe at your beautiful plot and what you have achieved. Kind regards, Nikki Channon, Blaen Nant Gwyn, Llanllwni Mountain SA39 9EH ( and

    • Hello Nikki,
      Thanks for the email. Maybe we could arrange for you to come on a Friday or Saturday, when we have another group coming, but at a different time? I’ll get in touch with you shortly through one of your websites to follow this up. Anyway thanks for the interest – maybe this is why you emailed now (?) but by chance the Garden is featured tonight on BBC2 Wales, Gardener’s World, only a small piece, but it captured the moos of this area nicely – and indeed the garden!
      Best wishes

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