By Françoise Murat
How do you design and build a garden that embraces new ideas, new concepts yet still manages to retain its history? How does a garden keep a sense of place in the 21st century?
It’s a difficult task but something that Anne Wareham and her husband Charles Hawes of Veddw House have managed to do with aplomb. A mix of ingenuity, sheer hard work, determination and a tight budget, Anne’s garden is the perfect example of an old site re-interpreted, re-worked and updated to bring into the 21st Century.
Veddw, pronounced vedoo, is a private garden and an on-going life’s work for Anne. When I visited, her enthusiasm and curiosity about the world was palpable. Anne is fascinated with the history of the site and she wanted to design and build a thoroughly modern garden which was still influenced by its past.
Her research has taken many painstaking months of work, something not to be underestimated by any owner of a period garden or landscape. From historical societies to ancient maps it is not just a matter of gathering the information but also interpreting the information and understanding the society of the time.
The 200 year old cottage on the Welsh border near Tintern in the village of Devauden, Monmouthshire, was originally built by a squatter who also took over the land that surrounds the property. Before the 18th and 19th century there was little planning to settlements, and their haphazard nature was in part due to the migrant nature of the populace searching for work wherever it was available.
Anne’s research of her garden and house bears witness to this high degree of mobility, but she has also unearthed some interesting discoveries: notwithstanding that people did move around a lot, they did not necessarily hand down their house and land to their families as these were mostly leased properties as described in the Tithe Map of 1842. She also discovered that Veddw was once owned by a woman who had a long lease on it with three named “lives” – three people one could name to inherit the lease. Not the ordinary picture of the women in the 18th and 19th century that we usually read about!
Listening to Anne I was fascinated by the etymology of names, the way they change over the years and decades- a bit like the fashion trends of today! Vedow, Veadow, Fedw, Vedw, the list goes on.
As owners of period properties and gardens may already know, history is not static. Things change, new facts are uncovered, old stones unearthed revealing more details about the previous inhabitants and their lives. All this contributes to shaping a new future.
The Veddw is a modern four acre garden that does away with the usual pastiche that one often sees in renovated or restored historical gardens or landscapes. No prissy planting or shapes here, no old statuary or customary parterres. The garden is not based on an old garden, style or period. Bold, architectural, it sits firmly in the natural amphitheatre which frames its north facing slope and continues around the house to its south facing Potager and meadow.
You can see that the history of the land fascinates Anne and there is a reference to the Tithe Map of 1841 in the very modern parterre of box which forms a cutting pattern on one slope of the garden. These are not only ornamental but serve to visually balance out the uneven ground and differing heights of the garden. The ornamental grasses are planted block-like, contained within a loose geometry.
Standing at the top of the slope near a bench marked with the different names of the The Veddw mentioned earlier, I was struck by the sense of place and history of this garden. It felt very exciting to see the developments of its history on a variety of markers within the garden but also the new, fun and sometimes very unusual planting combinations that I found there.
The wave-like hedges that are opposite the parterre enclose a variety of smaller garden rooms. The yew hedging is bold, high and sometimes over-bearing by its darkness and density. Although one feels an old fashioned sense of enclosure in a formal hedge design, the details within it are strikingly modern.
The planting for me was reminiscent of Fernando Caruncho’s agricultural landscapes, designed to integrate the rural agrarian elements within a design. The water feature lightened the very enclosed space with its tingling sounds.
The garden is full of surprises not only in its design and bold planting but in its reference to the ancient landscape and woods beyond. At every turn there is something to absorb, and to ask Anne about. The tomb-like markers within the wild meadow, the dark still pool that makes you want to dive in and discover the underworld, the Potager with its architectural cardoons contained again within formal box hedges, the blue benches, the huge boulders in the woodland, the ruin of another cottage on the upper north west slope. The list is endless.
I came away inspired, invigorated and amazed. Anne and her husband Charles have shown me in a very vivid manner the way one can pull together a historic old landscape or garden and take elements from the past and integrate them into the here and now without falling into the one ‘style’ or one ‘period’ look. To dust the old path behind you and yet still manage to build a path that leads you to the future is a very difficult endeavour - it’s not just about research, faithful restoration or recreation but about interpretation of the information, courage to undertake such a momentous project and determination to do what you want in a manner that gives you satisfaction and pleasure.
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“Restoring Gardens - A new garden in an old place" was originally published on 20th August 2010 in Country Life’s online Property Blog.