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 last 20 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.
( 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 and as we continue to discover successes and failures…
Our “Garden Impressionists” name comes from the inspiration we received from a single visit to Monet’s garden at Giverny many years ago, and which 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.
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. 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.
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 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Kho1IiNhY …
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 huge numbers of spring bulbs, and seating, shown below through the seasons…
- 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.
- A ‘crazy’, mossy croquet lawn, surrounded by shrub/perennial beds, again with many Hydrangea plants, herbaceous perennials and spring bulbs.
- A larch based woodland copse garden with Camellia, Skimmia, Pieris, Rhododendron, Azalea, Acer, Hydrangea, Meconopsis and thousands of bulbs and Cyclamen.
- A more formal terrace, with tubs and seating…
- An experimental, unique Retyred Matrix fruit and flower garden with nearly 50 different apple and pear cultivars, many grown with a unique spiral method of training. The area is also gradually developing as a display area for some of our more unusual snowdrop cultivars, of which we now have over 150 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.
- 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 our historic Welsh snowdrop project, which gets added to every year. Interesting flowers, but even more fascinating human stories behind lots of the locations we have visited. (Click here for more).
- 9 acres of meadows with stream, natural ponds and meadow walks. About 6 acres 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 …
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 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. We use no artificial or imported fertilisers relying instead on homemade compost, leaf mould and ash from our wood burning stoves. From 2015 however, 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.
We have a number of varieties of several plant groups including Viburnum, Hydrangea, Rhododendron, Ilex (holly), Saxifrage, Buddleja, Clematis, over 170 snowdrop cultivars, over 100 different daffodils (particularly vintage cultivars) and many climbing roses. We do not employ any external help within the garden, (for now!) although we do use tree surgeons for major tree work.
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
‘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.
‘A fantastic visit. Inspirational. Loved the tea.’ G.P. New Quay. June 2013
‘A truly magical garden.Thanks for your hospitality’. G.J.&.P. Llandrindod Wells. July 2013
‘Inspirational’ C.& B. Aberystwyth July 2013.
‘A wonderful Garden’ C. & M. Cambridge August 2013
‘Amazing!’ JF. S.Africa August 2013
‘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
‘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
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.
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).
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 separate website page by clicking here for details).
Thanks for reading. And do browse around the rest of the Blog Pages….
Last updated 4/01/2017