Hidden in a valley nestled below high beech woods, this secret garden leads its visitors into a world of creativity and imagination, and entices them from the natural landscape into a stimulating place of carefully interwoven shape and colour. Intentionally provocative, it plays like a symphony, repeating themes in different places and different forms.
The Veddw is the child of the imagination of its owners Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes, who have created the gardens from what were originally fields, over almost a quarter of a century. Deep in the heart of Monmouthshire, between Chepstow and Raglan, it offers a surprising modernity amidst this historic landscape, as if challenging its visitors to engage with the landscape in ways that the traditional garden does not offer.
The site is a delight for a gardener, being a valley which slopes from the tall overhanging beech woods at the top, down through the upper gardens, past the house, and on down through the lower gardens to the meadowland below. Beyond, views stretch out across the countryside to distant hills. The garden surrounds the house at its centre, embracing it and including it naturally into its landscape, while the height of the hillside offers perspectives from which to view the gardens from above, as well as from below. This height provides opportunity for vertical design as well as horizontal, and it is the understanding of this vertical element which is the key to the success of The Veddw.
Garden designs need not be conventional, and a green field site such as this, with no associated historic house to tie the design to a particular period, offers opportunity for freedom of expression. At The Veddw this opportunity has been grasped and a variety of garden styles have been successfully combined in an interpretation of the landscape which crosses from ancient to modern, juxtaposing formal topiary with strong modern shapes and colours.
A tour around the garden should not be rushed, just as it was not rushed in its planting. Each element is worthy of pause and consideration, taking time to reflect on the relations of each part, both in colour and form. Stepping first out onto the terrace behind the house, there is a small rectangular pool and adjoining the house is a conservatory, painted black and filled with shiny silver planters arranged on racks to display their silvery coloured planting, highlighted against the black walls. This strongly modern element sets a theme of colour and form which is reflected again in the artichokes in the potager and the black-painted trellis in the lower gardens.
Steps lead up from the terrace up to the formal part of the garden, where a long allée, defined by high clipped yew hedges, hides the garden rooms from view. Each room has limited access, and the design is irregular and maze-like. Exploring the rooms, each holds its own secret; some parts are more successful than others. The reflecting pool backed by its sequence of wave-clipped yew hedges climbing the hillside behind it is a unique piece of garden art, its terracotta-painted wave bench setting strong themes of colour and form. So, too, the little hidden room, high hedged with its silver fountain and black painted fencing, lettered in gold which adds a modern twist to the formal clipped box. The theme of the red wave is repeated at the back of a green beech hedge, cleverly backed with red copper beech which is reflected on the far side of the valley, bringing the landscape together with colour.
On the slope above the yew rooms a series of yew columns climbs the hillside, tying the formal hedging successfully into the high surrounding woodland, while at the top of the valley are walks through the old beech woodland, and a small ruined stone cottage from which to view the gardens from above. The vistas of the garden are terminated not in the usual classical urns or statues, but in cut-out shapes, painted white. Perhaps a less successful element, silver would probably better reflect the colours of the conservatory, and continue its modern statement outside. But this is a detail.
Below the house, a formal garden quartered with gravel paths and a central stone bird bath has a black pergola running along one side, reflecting the black of the pool and conservatory above. Down through the arch in the hornbeam hedge, the garden becomes less formal at the lower level. An avenue of Turkish hazels runs down the centre of wild meadows. These lower meadows have not been ploughed for two centuries, and a wide variety of plants growing naturally include fritillaries and wild orchids.
At the bottom of the garden, rectangular potagers are planted with the garden's theme colours of silver-grey artichokes and dark red Heuchera 'Palace Purple' while box clipped into balls and domed saucers reflects the formal topiary of the upper garden. The combination is both unusual and inspired, repeating the garden's themes of silver and red of waves, and of formal modernity. Here the red paint is replaced with a bright blue for the seats, which when I visited was reflected in an identical, startling clematis, geraniums, and, of course, the sky. Again, a successful reflection and repetition, a theme. This garden shows what a quarter century of time, dedication and passion can achieve. But it is how such gardens are viewed and discussed which gives them meaning. So do go and view The Veddw. And discuss it. It will be a rewarding experience.