September 2, 2007
We tell our friends it is not really a garden at all, because when they find out that we tend a plot around a defunct goldmine in Snowdonia they all say ‘How can you possibly garden in two places at once?’ It’s better than counting sheep is my response.
It is only a sketch of a garden, in any case – but to me all the better for it. It lies by a stream in the middle of a wood, deep among thriving oak, ash and birch, with a distant view of that most noble of
rather short mountains, Cader Idris. Wales had its gold rush at much the same time as California and Australia, in the middle of the 19th century. The Cae Gwian mine was floated on the London Stock Exchange. Shafts were dug, railways installed and a crushing-mill
built, powered by a towering water wheel. All they fetched out in the end was copper, but the grey stone buildings stood – and 150 years later motivated our
garden, round the stream that runs from the mine-mouth, our deep dark grotto.
The old mine office, gabled but roofless, is the sheep-proof part for precious plants. The rest is defined only with low stone walls. One roofless shed is home to a hydrangea that fills it to overflowing
with deep bluey purple blooms. A
gunnera guards the path up to the grotto. Embothriums stand round it like flaming brands. Strawberry trees stand at the corners. There is a graceful myrtle gleaned as a seedling from a Scottish forest, a maiten from Patagonia, and ferns ranging from the Royal, one day I hope in these conditions the size of a small tractor, to the e xquisite little thing with two inch fronds that grows between the dark grey stones. In such acid soil with 70 inches of rain a year things become possible that in Essex are out of the question.