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Gardening: A Sylvan Anniversary

Pursuits | By ​David Wheeler

Winter wonderland: Bryan’s Ground

A quarter of a century, 25 years, 9,125 days or thereabouts… I’m too lazy to factor in leap years. However it’s presented, it’s a fair old chunk of time: a tad more than a third of my life; around half of my partner’s adult life. What have we done with it?

Answer: we made a garden, a garden that now exceeds eight acres, in which 20 or more smaller gardens and a five-acre arboretum are interconnected with the precision of a Swiss watch. I can boast this degree of exactitude and magnificence because I am not (well, hardly not) responsible for its design. Those laurels belong principally to my partner who, alongside a successful career as a landscape painter and occasional designer of other people’s gardens, still finds time to further embellish our borderland paradise.

That border is defined by the River Lugg, a trout stream that bubbles up out of the earth some 12 miles west of us in the Radnorshire hills, meandering past us for twice that distance before debouching into the mightier River Wye.

Named after the field upon which it was built in 1911-13, Bryan’s Ground, a minor arts and crafts estate, had its original garden laid out by the architect of the house. Its three acres served well several families through the two World Wars and we are grateful to those successive owners for so carefully maintaining endless stretches of yew hedging and a quirky assembly of evergreen topiary.

By the time of our arrival, late in 1993, it had become a sleeping beauty, a peaceful haven with outbuildings and a large greenhouse, awaiting a prince’s kiss. It got two, for our combined though separate passions (design and plants) were exercised with gusto.

Within a month, we had sourced and planted 30 different apple varieties, to reinstate a former orchard whose ghostlike remains were clearly visible in frosted turf. A light falling of snow in those early few days transformed the level site to a painter’s blank canvas. With sticks and keen eyes, we drew lines to indicate where new hedges would be planted – most urgently on the west side of the house where a long-disused tennis court willingly surrendered itself to a Russian doll of flower gardens.

We have made colour-themed plantings and added fragrance wherever possible, although an ultimately unsuccessful ‘ballroom’ of recherché 19th-century French roses lacked the vigour to survive Herefordshire winters. Follies have sprung up everywhere, many reflected in formal pools tucked into unlikely places.

In an adjacent, redundant donkey paddock, on the morning of the new millennium, I raked over the ashes of our midnight bonfire and planted the first of what now amounts to some 12,000 trees and shrubs. We dug a quarter-acre ‘naturalised’ pool and crafted vistas to take the eye beyond what’s ours. It’s been a huge and expensive project, funded solely by two freelancers and, now, welcome summer visitors. We are on our third generation of canine families and several changes of garden helpers (‘staff’ is not the right word) which began with a wild bunch of brothers and half-brothers whose strength never failed.

A few friends recently brought some fizz to celebrate our quarter century at Bryan’s Ground, but not before we marched to the back of the kitchen garden wall to salute our motto carved into a slab of Welsh slate: ‘In delay there lies no plenty.’ Another (unlikely) 25 years here will see me within reach of my 100th birthday – who can say what thrills, expense and glorious frustrations will have transpired by then?

bryansground.co.uk; hortus.co.uk

This story was from February Issue issue. Subscribe Now