Benign neglect Posted on May 22, 2018

Three years ago, in May 2015, I wrote an entry about staying in a Welsh country house hotel. We’re here again, and everything I wrote is still true. I don’t know any other garden where the tastes and sentiments of a hundred years ago are so perfectly preserved. Benign neglect has done its work. Clearly there were once many more incidents, of structure and planting. Traces of abandoned stone paths wind up the steep slopes under the huge beeches and oaks. Where once there must have been beds of massed azaleas and camellias only the sturdiest have survived, to reach impressive size.  Some specimens of Rhododendron arboreum are now forty-foot towers of deep green and bright red. Sheltering under one of them is a pure white camellia, intricately double, now twenty feet across, covered in perfect buttonholes, and across the granite path, plush with moss, the yellow Azalea mollis, and another, a peachy version, have opened up into graceful dancers in the dappled shade.

The phantom of an avenue leads straight on from the sunk parterre, rising with the hill from a meadow of bluebells, scattered with old orchard trees and on one side beehives. A wavering stone wall, deep brown and moss-green, divides it from the forest. Above the house the rectangle of what was once the tennis court is now bluebell-spangled, with silver birches in place of netting. A cuckoo speaks above the background burble of streams; the hill is full of them, converging in black rocky channels on a long pond where gunneras are just expanding elephant leaves.

There is a secular logic about this garden. It meanders with the contours of a mountain, trying tentatively to impose formal shapes on random slopes. Dark granite balustrades outline what was once formal. A rectangular lawn points away from the house at what seems an awkward angle until you look beyond; it is aimed squarely at the dome of Diffwys, purple or snow-covered, second highest mountain in these parts only to Cader Idris.

Time has engineered perfect integration here, of nature on the grand scale and the gardener’s puny interventions. The result is tranquillity.

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