A Moorland Garden - the begining

Last October I left my cool temperate garden (USDA Zone 9, UK hardiness H2(ish)) on coastal Anglesey.  I have moved to a garden at 330m altitude on the edge of moorland in the South Pennines. 
The garden has issues- not just in its altitude and exposure  but the terrain is very steep- I have a drop of 5m in 10m. It has not been a garden previously - it was rough pasture -and there is very little  topsoil.  This winter we have 7 separate coverings of snow.
On the other hand I was happy to move to the house-which is a newly renovated stone barn with plenty of insulation and ground source heat pumps to keep the inside warm without destroying the planet. It is conveniently situated  close to many interesting natural and man made things.I look out onto open country in all directions, but I can be in centre of the cities of Manchester or Leeds in much less than an hour.
I will use this blog to describe the development of the garden. There will be 3 major themes:

Transculturance- following my interest in Japanese garden art and history, I will apply what I know and find interesting in this South Pennine environment - a garden that has a bit of Japanese style in its soul but is true to its location.  

Naturalistic Planting Design -  proceeding from what I have learned from the European garden teacher/designers over my years of gardening - Christo Lloyd and Beth Chatto; Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury; and perhaps most relevant to my current location the work of Nigel Dunnett and Jim Hitcthmough

It will be my garden - my playground. A place to explore those cultural clashes, responding and enriching local ecology and trying to push some boundaries  of what is possible in these conditions and by no means least- taking advantage of what the site has to offer. 

3 cups of tea

Three cups of tea
Encounters with Japanese Tea Ceremonies on the Kyoto Intensive Seminar+

The photos will be in the publication

In October 2018 I joined the Intensive Seminar+ of the Centre for Research in Japanese Garden Art and History, which is part of the Kyoto University of Art and Design. I attended because I wanted to engage is a serious study of Japanese Gardens and an opportunity to visit gardens in expert company. I must say that the Seminar vastly exceeded my expectations and I felt privileged to attend. The talks, activities and visits gave me many interesting frameworks to structure my ideas and organise my knowledge of Japanese gardens.

As part of our programme we attended three different tea ceremonies. Anyone interested in the generality of Japanese gardens has to be interested in tea in Japanese culture. Even before Sen no Rikyū  formalised tea ceremonies, and their associated  gardens, gardens were often designed for entertaining guests, and as an enthusiast for infusions of Camellia Sinensis I endorse the celebration of drinking tea with friends.

Our first encounter was in a tea house constructed within the grounds of Kyoto University of Art and Design. We were told we would have an experience of a Sencha tea ceremony. Tea comes in two main varieties in Japan: matcha which is finely powdered green tea and would be familiar to anyone who has participated in a tea ceremony (or bought a Japanese variety of a popular chocolate wafer biscuit), and sencha which is unformented leaf green tea- the kind most commonly taken and is also sold in a refreshing cold bottled form at every street corner.

Tea ceremonies follow the ways of “Schools”, who each have their own philosophy, methods and apparatus for making tea, and on the way it is served. People devote many years to perfect their understanding of any given school. These schools all are developed from the rules originally  set down by Sen no Rikyū over 400 years ago. Having  a Welsh background I can understand how minor differences in interpretation give rise to schisms and new schools. The first School we encounter was based around Sencha tea, The Ogawa School of Sencha. Our ceremony was lead by Ogawa Koraku, head of the Ogawa School of Tea since 1973, in an unbroken line, from father to sun for 150 years.

As well as being differentiated by the use of Sencha tea, the Ogawa school is different because it centred on bringing tea drinking closer to nature and drinking tea in picnics outdoors. Hence the equipment used in Ogawa tea ceremonies is different from the more traditional tea Schools, which in turn alters the various order of doing things and the “skills” involved. The tradition is relatively modern having been established in the 19th century in  during the Meiji restoration.
What is surprising is when the tea arrives there is barely enough tea to cover the bottom of the bowl - three drops. It is followed by a second cup with slightly more(just) tea along with a mochi sweet and then finally a full cup of hot water to quench the thirst.  Apparently the tea, which is certainly flavoursome,  is to nourish and harmonise and not for satisfying one’s need for a drink. Esoteric and intellectual - tea as part of a search for truth

Our second cup was under quite different circumstances. We were in the company of Mr. Tokushirou Tamane, the Head Gardener of Kinkaku-Ji, the garden of the Golden Temple. We had been given privileged access to parts of the garden far from its normal madding crowds. We sat in the head priest’s house looking out on a garden built and designed 40 years earlier by Mr. Tokushirou Tamane and Professor Makoto Nakamura, and we were taken trough a guarded gate to do the complete stroll around the temple lake. The stroll ended by the tea house where we were served mocha tea and another mocha cake. Although the whole afternoon was auspicious beyond my imagining, this tea ceremony was one of the continuous tea ceremonies provided at Kinkaku-Ji all day and every day as part of the admission ticket. An experience for experience collectors.

Our final tea ceremony was held on the beautiful surroundings of Jiko-in on the outskirts of Nara. This temple is set on a hill and its garden captures the scenery of the valley and on to the distant hills with carefully layers hedges and nearby trees. There are exquisite and venerable pines, and the karikomi clipped Azaleas were perfect.  Every tokonoma had refined ikebana and its enclosed courtyards the epitome of perfection. We sat cross legged, waiting for tea,  on mats in a room whose shoji were drawn to reveal the garden. We were addressed by the officiating priest. “There are no rules for how you drink your tea or eat your cake. You may do as you like, as long as you enjoy the surroundings”. He is one of the kind hearted.


 1 Quite small Welsh villages might have  six or more different non-conformist chapels with slightly different interpretations of worship

2  In an earlier article I cite Zen priest Muso Kokushi’s reasons people have for making gardens. He describes four reasons which in short are:
There are those who have no particular liking for landscape but they, themselves wish to be admired.
There are those who are collectors of things
There are “kind-heated” ones. They like a pretty garden as a place  to read poetry and nourish their hearts with a garden view.
There are also people for whom a garden sustains their search for truth- a garden for enlightenment.

RA Painting the modern garden

These are links to an article ........ . The article discusses the Royal Academy Exhibition "Painting the Modern Garden, Monet to Matisse" from the perspective of someone with an interest in Japanese Garden design.

Ma, Cynefin and a sense of place

This article appears in Shakekei vol 22 number 3, available from the UK Japanese Garden Society.

We started with Song dynasty inkwash of mountains in China and we end with a Lancashire garden influenced by Shiegemori. Such were the slides at the 2015 National Meeting of the UK Japanese Garden Society at Calderstone Park in Liverpool on October  17th.  We had four talks, one from a Japanese  cultural historian  and three from professional Japanese garden makers. It was an educative experience - and made me reflect on my own garden and practice. There were four speakers:  a Japanese cultural historian  Yoko Kawaguchi who provided some historic background that could be discerned from historic images of Japan;   and three professional Japanese garden builders ( Howard Healey , Robert Ketchell  and Graham Hardman ) who offered tales and examples from their practice.  The theme for the day was “where do I go from here?” What was there for the amateur garden maker to learn?

 Yoko Kawaguchi prefaced her talk by telling us the most specific impetus in the design and building of the Japanese garden in the love of the Japanese landscape. An illustration of a Chinese ink wash painting for the 11th Century, in many ways captured the whole sense of place , Ma,  that encapsulates much of what  is understood of Japanese gardens. Yoko’s talk was to show us the ways we can understand Japanese gardens for images from Japan’s history, One particular image of Koishikawa Kōrakuen Garden, an Edo period garden in Bunkyō, Tokyo. My further research finds that it is influenced by West Lake in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province in eastern China. West Lake has influenced poets and painters throughout Chinese history for its natural beauty and historic relics, and it has also been among the most important sources of inspiration for Chinese garden designers and according to its UNESCO designation it has "influenced garden design in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea over the centuries"and reflecting "an idealized fusion between humans and nature”. Yoko describes how this link with landscape - which informs the design of gardens and art is significant - one influencing the other and vice versa. Another significant word Yoko used was sublime - as being a Western concept that in some ways reflects the Japanese artistic

What I have in common with the garden makers  of Japan that Yoko describes is a love of  and inspiration from landscape. I make my garden in north west Wales. There are parallels between the Japanese word Ma (間) and the Welsh word Cynefin which sort of translates like “a place where a person or even an animal feels it ought to live. It is where nature around you feels right and welcoming”. There is no English word that quite explains the sense of place of Ma or Cynefin. I do recognise differences between Ma and Cynefin - in that one need not feel at home in Ma - it is an experiential place or even the space between places. I understand from the garden maker speakers that they conceive ma when they set their stones - but also in cynefin the place is right for the object.  In ones reaction to landscape there is also a European word that Yoko used, and that is sublime. Edmund Burke  defined the sublime as

“a quality of art or experience that "excites the ideas of pain and danger" that produces "the strongest emotion that the mind is capable of feeling" (302) and that causes "astonishment...horror, terror;...the inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect.”

The British landscape was the inspiration for sublime imagery in the romantic period. For me the most sublime British art are the works of J.W.M. Turner who along with many others took the landscape of Wales as well as Wales’s ruined castles and abbeys in particular to evoke the sublime.  As with Japanese garden design, there has been the interplay between landscape art and garden design. The ruin and  the wild were features of the picturesque  and romantic period of British garden design. However, in contrast to  borrowing scenery, Repton built follies and Capability Brown changed the scenery to fit the aesthetic.  The sublime also parallels the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic (wabi- transient and stark beauty; sabi- the beauty of natural patina and ageing).  So as a garden maker in Wales I have much to draw from that offers me Ma, Cynefin, Sublime and Wabi Sabi.

I am inspired by the Welsh landscape. The valley of the Conwy just south of Betws y Coed is famed for the Fairy Glen. I have seen paintings of it in Bergen by Norwegian artists - as though they did not have sufficient sublime landscape of their own. Below there are two of my recent photographs and an 19th Century British Romantic School painting by Reginald Aspinall (1876) (Harris Gallery, Preston). Here nature has worked to create the perfect garden template. The rocks and the water are in perfect juxtaposition, the moss and lichen provide the perfect patina. The stones, in theory, could not be anything other than perfectly placed - for they are positioned by the power of water.
My photo of Fairy Glen Reginald Aspinwall's painting from Harris Museum , Preston

Less than a hundred metres further downstream the Conwy merges with the Lledr and we get a different landscape.  I am struck by the similarity with the garden of Tenruy-ji in Kyoto, with the same ( but accidental)  capturing of borrowed scenery. There is a small rocky promontory, which no doubt would please any designer. In the pool created, fish leap as they might in a Hiroshige woodblock print. Nestled on the wooded shore there are anglers’ shelters that are worthy complements to hermits’ shelters. Lledr/Conwy
Tenruy-ji ,Kyoto

My current and future garden making therefore has a wealth of inspiration. Sakuteiki’s first instruction from Treatise in Garden Making (11th century) is to observe and learn from nature; “do not transpose a view that you have seen - it is imitation - but to absorb the atmosphere and feeling”. My making has just  started and therefore has several centuries of development and sabi to come.    Alas although I am surrounded by woodland and mountains I do not easily get borrowed scenery in my garden. The height of my neighbours trees and the orientation of my own house make shekkei impossible. The trees also affect the palette of plants I can use - shade tolerance is important.

However having a nice temperate Zone 9 climate means I have a wider palette than Japanese garden masters. I am doubly fortunate in that I live close to Crûg Farm, whose owners, Bleddyn and Sue Wynn Jones have scoured the mountain forests of Japan, China and Vietnam. Schefflera amy not be part of Kyoto’s plant lists however they make a great contribution to making a setting for my mountain hermitage. The key ingredients are thus in place that satisfy the needs of cynefin and ma; of wabi-sabi and the sublime for a Japanese style garden in Wales.

I learned a lot from the professionals too. Howard described his professional practice with a particular reference to a client who had a 1.5 acre garden in the chalk landscape of southern England. It seemed that the clients had a “money was not a barrier” attitude to creating the Japanese garden that fitted with their lifestyles. Enough money to excavate landforms, to change slopes, and to plant acid loving plants into chalk. Howard described how he had to adapt the aesthetic to the needs of geology, climate on the one hand and the fact that he has the plant material 21st Century United Kingdom has to offer - and in the cases he described - the finance to get the best. He also showed us very modern, minimalist hard landscape features such as lanterns very much influenced by Shiegemori.

Richard Ketchell further described his working methods which he wrote about in Shakkei (vol 25 n.1). I was particularly drawn to two things - the impermanence of rules, and the sense that setting stones comes from an embodied  knowledge- where past learning melds with the physicality of the stone and the space in which it will fit.  In the article he says

“The creative process of creating a garden is a shamanic journey into another world to see, then “bring back a vision of completeness and harmony.”

Therefore, for Richard, the design of a garden is not something that can be pre-conceived and placed on paper - in the current western tradition of the Chelsea-esque - but when the inner vision combines with stones  that  are in his hands and he is the the space.

Graham Hardman’s methods and sentiments echoed those of Richard. Graham’s words also implied that formal western landscape design practice was not sufficient when making a Japanese garden. In fact all three of the garden builders shared a sense that the clients interaction during the construction, their own increased sense of the Ma, the space, as elements are added determined the form of their next action in planting or placing some hard landscape element.

Graham focussed much more on garden’s in the UK on a domestic scale - close to my own-  and was in some sense answering  his own question about  Japanese gardens in a UK setting.  We have a different climate and the surrounding architecture is very different. We have a access to a wider availability of plants but equally we can not rely on the humidity to give a good moss cover. Howard mentioned sedums and Graham mentioned Thymes as a substitutes.  Graham’s illustration of a garden he designed for a suburban driveway is never going to resemble Raku residence in Kyoto. It is worth noting what  Teiji Itoh(1965) has to say about Edo Tsuboniwa (courtyards) :

“Still the important fact to remember about the courtyard garden is that it has never sought to be an ideal or perfect creation…. in this we see reflected the good sense and the basic philosophy of the urban gardener.”
Space and Illusion p87

All three of the Japanese garden makers therefore have licence to build to interpret the philosophy in the ways that fit.

In my own garden making I have much to learn. Unlike the professionals I am only making one garden. Years of experience in setting stones have to be replaced by careful study of the works of others  and gathering the “basic philosophy of the urban gardener” as something to internalise, so that I too can act “bring back a vision of completeness and harmony.”

Unlike the professionals I have not gone to distant quarries in Leicester or Scotland.  Anyone who has seen the OS Geological Map of Anglesey will think it a 1960’s psychedelic poster - such is the diversity of stone requiring many colours to differentiate the strata. My garden lies on an outcrop of Anglesey blue schist. A hard angular, crystalline rock that fractures quite easily into very irregular shapes. It does not lend itself to elegant slabs or soft gravels. However within 10Km I have purple slate, which I use for walling and  paving in both chips and slabs (and eventually stepping stones). I also have Anglesey marble just up the road. It is a dark grey and I am able to talk to the quarry to make me kerbstones the size I want them, and may in future provide tsubaki (basins).

The cynefin represented by my garden however is the blue schist. It delineates some planting areas and edges paths but more significantly it is the fact that the rock is in the surface. I have no say in the placement of the large stones in my garden, it has been determined by geo-history. Instead I have had to think through how the fixed elements in the garden; the lie of the land, the sun, the shade and the rocky extrusions can be accommodated into a harmonious space. I realise I have to adopt a different technique but follow the same philosophy. I am also my own demanding client. I want kare-sansui. I want decorative elements of tsubachi, bridges and lanterns ( and purchased from Howard). I want my hermitage.
My hermitage The level change wall

I have set about the process by addressing the geography and geology.  I have changed slopes by building retaining drystone walls. I have laid paths and created pavement of local stone (slate). The paths provide the journeys through the garden and the places to stop and contemplate have been thought through as site lines, desire lines and places of surprise and hopeful delight.  I have used bamboo poles and other screen to delineate space. I have sited the machiai/hermitage. The stones have been significant factors in all of this - but I have not placed them, but they still need to be in the “right” place.  I may have this wrong; paths and plants may have to move - but the stones are in the right place.
Stones, positioned by Geology in my garden.

I am really at the beginning of the process. I have done the build.  I now have to wait for plants to mature and sabi to develop. I need to be still, I need to move through the space, I need to see the seasons change. I need to visit more gardens and absorb more landscape.

By the way,  Betws y Coed means monk’s hermitage in the woods. So where do I go from here? Nowhere. I have much to contemplate within the garden before the next steps.

 From: Mountain Light Sanctuary

The snow-covered mountain path
Winding through the rocks
Has come to its end;
Here stands a hut,
The master is all alone;
No visitors he has,
Nor are any expected.

Sen no Rikyū (1521-1591)
(D.T. SUZUKI, Zen and Japanese Culture, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959, p. 282)
Edmund Burke  “Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful”

Teiji Itoh “Space and Illusion”, Weatherhill, New York 1965

List of illustrations
Reginald Aspinall -Fairy Glen Betws Y Coed,   Harris Museum and Gallery

Image 1 Fairy Glen, Conwy - an example of the sublime (author’s own)
Image 2 Fairy Glen (2) Conwy - natural placement of stones (author’s own
Image 3 Tenryu-ji - contrast with the Shakkei where Conwy meets Lledr (image 4) (source  http://japanesegardens.piwigo.com/)
Image 4 Where the Conwy and Lledr merge - a source of Shakei
Image 5 - Stones and Water (author’s won)
Image 6  Blue Schist emerging from the ground
Image 7 Blue Schist in walls and other features (including sea worn stones)
Image 8 Making a garden around the stones. Anglesey grey marble kerbstones.
Image 9 Slate used for level changes and paths.
Image 10 The Machaia/Hermitage


Booting out Iris?

The iris is a lovely plant but in Bron Ceris it has to fight hard for space.  I still have plenty of room for more plants but finding a good situation for iris is hard. They need direct sun to bake the rhizome, they flower for a couple of weeks and then hang about with their pointy leaves  for the  rest of the year. They do not retire gracefully.

The Welsh/East Anglian artist Cedric Morris was a breeder and painter of Irises and he shows us how to love them  in their variety of colour and pattern, however I find that the density he illustrates and the period of loveliness too difficult to achieve.

Currently my irises are in a holding position that is neither good for the garden or good for them.  They share a small bed in the middle of the Japanese styled part of the garden  with some Hosta Sielbodliana (Canadian Blue) and Pachysandra Terminalis. It is probably too shady for the iris as there is my neighbour’s overhanging Portuguese Laurel on the one hand and a growing  Dickinsonia  on another.  I have a spot in mind. Currently the plot is weedy - save for a recently planted Magnolia Sielbodii, which will take a few years to get to any serious height. It is on the opposite and not normally accessible side of the pond - which has the wild iris  (I. pseudacorus)  self planted in it.

The spot with the irises will be re-thought. I will prune some of the branches of the laurel. The spot is too good for the pachysandra, which can go elsewhere. This leaves me with new and exciting questions.  I will want to plant this area in a way that makes full use of the large rocks emerging from the ground and are in the wall. Excuse the profusion of weeds- the next few months tidying will happen.

Covering the Shady Ground

Although some of my previous hard landscape work has been altered,  most safe-to-fail experiments in Bron Ceris garden concern planting both in the choice of material and their juxtaposition. Tree preservation orders and an uncooperative neighbour resulted in my growing interest in shade gardening. I am fortunate in having Crûg Farm 15 minutes away - so finding shade plants and advice is not a problem - however when I get there I have a child-in-a-sweetshop syndrome. I also already  have some stuff to transplant.  In the immaturity of the shade garden  ground cover is key  - therefore  one major experiment is planting and plant combinations.

Ground hugging plants, moss substitutes (I have some Japanese pretensions) and year-round green have all been considered. Obviously some plants take time to get established and form colonies however after one year there are some plants that have shown their worth.  These plants are in irrigated dry shade.  I might add in my Z9 climate much of the planting I describe is fairly evergreen anyway.

A clear success has been Mitella x inamii- ground hugging palmate green glossy leaves with silver veins has more than quadroupled its space  without damage from slugs or whatever and looks very attractive

Mitella furusei v. subramosa  has survived but has yet to establish a colony.

Chrysosplenum Macrophyllum has began to triple its quantity in the first year - But as Bleddyn Wynn Jones pointed out - you may regret its profusion over time. It is in the darkest part of the garden.

I shy away from any plant bearing the name Oxalis -as given the opportunity, the white Oxalis latifola would rapidly colonise any bare ground in the garden. However Oxalis oergana seems to have grown into nice low hummocks with long flowering periods of mauve flowers.

I found Beesia calthifolia very attractive and I put it in two spots. One has survived but not put on a huge growth in the first year- however the second, less than 1 m away has provided food stuff for some other garden inhabitant.  I will persist because it is so lovely. I have had a similar experience with Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost.

Saxifraga fortunei f. alpina has multiplied well and has provided a long flowering season with very pleasant autumn colours.
Vancouveria Hexandra has become fodder for some other garden dweller and only a few leaves and stalks are left - maybe that will be more robust next year.

Using a different scale, I have also planted some hardy geraniums- which have remained in leaf throughout the year. G. nodosum “Svelte Lilac” has formed its 45 cm clump as advertised in 1 year and will lift and separate to cover more space. The blotched leaves of  G x monacense have also done equally well and its intermittent, almost black flowers were interesting - although I have regarded both plants as  having foliage interest. A friend has also supplied an unnamed variety which was termed G. toughasoldboots.

Pachysandra terminalis has done OK as expected- but its really boring - but next year I might try P. axillaris 'Crûg's Cover' - I am warned that gets rampant in our north Wales climate - but its shiny leaves are very tempting.

Ophiopogon formosanus  and O.japonicus have bushed out and are particularly good  at the edges of paths as they will flop over the sides of the edging.They look like  lush grass most of the time with formosanus having a broader leaf.
Close to the ground I have wondered about moss-substitutes for a Japan inspired pathway.  I have left some soil open in the hope that moss will appear. Two obvious substitutes: Soleirolia and Sagina Subalta have done well.

The diary of an untidy mind

Trying to ensure that I do have a record of what is going on and when changes happen is probably as important  as more thoughtful pieces.  Hence the bullet point nature.

Protea Dracomontana

A trip to the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa:

  • Resolve to do something  with alpines - in the bit with exposed rock
  • Put in some succulents - the Aloe Arborescence  was lovely  but not for this climate. I have bought and planted Aloe Stratiata - the owner of the Cavern Resort  suggested as it came from Lesotho and they have a lot of rain it might do well. I have noticed that it did well against a wall  near the entrance in Bodnant.  Also bought Aloe Polyphylla. This I will keep in a pot and bring out in the summer.  This, among other reasons, will mean I will buy a mini-polytunnel.  Also I have bought  Hesperaloe Parviflora  - this  is in the mediterranean gravel.

A trip to Crûg Farm and bought: 

  • a beautiful  Magnolia Sielbodii -lovely pure white cup flowers with purple calyx. This  is in-between the pond and my neighbour's house.I hope will screen their bathroom.  Used compost from new hotbox composter.
  • Tiarella polyphylla 'Baoxing Pink’
  • Aconitum zigzag v. ryohakuense
  • Beesia calthifolia
  • an Actea


This is to fill up a bit more of the Shade garden.  I am also planting out the Thalictrum rochebruneanum that I have grown from seed.  I have also recently planted Musa Lasiocarpa near the “bus shelter”  and I have moved a pot containing Canna Russiflora nearby.   I have also recently planted some anenome nemorosa,  ompholoides,  some pulmonaria  and Houttuynia cordata (possibly harlequin or  chameleon). Transferred  the cyclamen from the “winter”containers.  Most of last years planting doing well. 

Double throated sunbird on an Aloe Arborescens.

After Chelsea I was much taken with  Salvia "Love and Wishes”. I found it for sake In J Parkers  as part of a bundle with 4 others Salvias at a good price for groups of  5.  These have been purchased and planted and will be discussed in due course.

Aliums purchased in Tatton 2014 looking good -  will need more for close to house and for succession in the “big” bed.

The season is late -a lot of wind and rain.

The Strange Case of the Vanishing Apples

What was the garden like before all the work? The garden we took over from the previous owner was, in estate agent parlance, “well stocked”.  There was a profusion of conifer: thuja, Castelwellan, dark brooding firs, and creeping junipers. There was a profusion of evergreens-  oleanders, grisellas, laurels, a variagated ficus japonica, privet, pittosporums and eleagnus. Flowers seemed to end with June. There were Fosrythia, flowering currents, Chaenomeles,  berberis darwinii, and a nice 3m tall ceanothus which went well with the neighbouring variagated eleagnus.  The crowning glory was two laburnums - roughly half way down and in opposite borders.  In season there was blossom on 8 semi-dwarf apple trees (M25) . A Genista Lydia was leggy, and there was a calistemon, which was totally underwhelming.

What passed for summer colour was in front of the house. A lonely red peony, a thing of beauty,  was a joy for a fortnight.  Beneath a laurel hedge there was a row of five washed out pink hydrangeas (probably macrophylla - but certainly the common or garden variety) that failed to impress. There was a lot of irregularly shaped lawn on uneven surfaces which was  hard to mow. End of the story.

A twin tragedy on the season of our arrival in May 1989 set in train a series of events that results in the garden we now have. Old Laburnums are prone to split at the bole - and in two fell swoops we lost both laburnums to this process in the same season.  I was unsure of the best way to address this at the time and I left what I thought was well-enough alone - hoping for regrowth on some other botanical miracle.

Roji and Lines of Desire

Where do paths go? There were no paths. That is to say there was a paved way around the house itself and two sets of of steps from the house down to the grass. To move about the garden we walked on grass avoiding the planted beds. Having proper paths is more than having something firmer underfoot.  Paths guide progress around the garden.  They inform you where you should go. Places where there is a choice of travel or change of direction allow for pauses. A  river of paving material draws the eye in particular directions. Paths create views in the garden. 

In Japanese  gardening there is a style called Kaiyu-shiki-teien or strolling garden By following the path the visitor is presented with a series of scenes which are specifically intended to be viewed at key points around the path. Frequently Japanese Strolling Gardens will feature the style or technique of "borrowed scenery", shakkei, which uses elements outside of the garden such as temples or mountains to create the illusion that the garden is much larger than it actually is. Japanese Strolling Gardens also use the style or technique of miegakure, or "hide-and-reveal", which uses the angle or direction of the path, buildings, thick foliage or fences to hide a particular key scene until the visitor is at the ideal viewing point.  We have so much scenery to borrow - the Strait and the mountains - however  the location of Bron Ceris, surrounded by neighbours and their trees we have no borrowed scenery.  It is possible to think of some elements of hide a reveal, and positioning key features - seating areas, buildings and so on as to be part of hiding and revealing. This will be the focus of an experiment in the placing of plants and the directions of paths.
We built a serpentine wall where the level changed.

The second Japanese concept that informs the layout of paths is idea of Roji  - the “dewey ground” a visitor passes through on the way to the tea ceremony. A roji garden is often enclosed- taking away the external view. It also limits its panting so that - with the exception of blossom (Uma)  in the Spring, and Acer is the Autumn colour is provided by foliage and moss.  There are some other traditional elements, a toro - a stone lantern; ttsubaki - a basin to wash your hands and a machaia - a waiting room.  A splendid view was provided in a famous Roji garden Myōki-an  the sleeve brushing pine, so called for its diminutive size and intimacy.  Only by humbling oneself - bending to use the tsubaki - was a view of the inland sea revealed.  More scope for experiment.  However the Roji in Bron Ceris is less likely to make minimal use of colour. I have a greater choice of plants to mimic the Japanese mountainside than was available to Sen no Rikyū . I am going to experiment with the rules of rustic simplicity, directness of approach and honesty to self; I will use a broader plant pallet than the Japanese tradition-  because I can. However, following the essence, I want to create a garden where there were journeys.

So to start I destroyed the lawn. I also destroyed the lawn because clearly it was also best location in the garden for choice “full sun” plants. After failed negotiations with my neighbours and the local government tree planner I became happily resigned to having a substantial part of the garden as a shade/sub woodland garden. I am fortunate to have the world’s best nurseries for shade gardens 10Km away.  The terrace right outside the house is classically South facing - so that is a good place for showy exotics.

The next task has been linking and delineating these areas with paths and paving.