I don’t generally go to Huw’s holiday cottage in Wales if there’s an ‘r’ in the month as the weather can be somewhat inclement at the best of times and the house has no central heating. But the second half of last weekend was actually be in May, the weather was set fair and Huw has a new woodburning stove, so I went.
As ever, as soon as we arrived, we went on a tour of the garden. This is when Huw notes the latest round of plant losses and survivors. The garden is at the bottom of a mountain overlooking the sea, so the growing conditions are pretty extreme – wind, rain, cold, slugs, mice and hungry sheep are all a threat. And Huw doesn’t play it safe, either – his plot is packed with rare and exotic plants, many of which are borderline hardy. It even has what must be the UK’s only piptanthus grove.
I struggled to identify much in the garden but Huw leapt about, happily noting blossom on his schisandra, michelia, abutilon and Rosa sericea (above) and proclaiming: ‘Stephen is alive!’ (‘Stephen’ is his favourite ginger lily, and its shoots were just emerging). All in all there were lots of survivors this time around – even the more unusual tree ferns had fresh shoots on them, but some rarer species of banana hadn’t made it through the winter.
Huw’s attitude to gardening is very different to my own. He grows plants from seed that I’d never even consider, such as palms, shrubs and trees – even though they take years to flower or reach a decent size. He’s matter-of-fact about his plant losses and isn’t that fussed about the ‘right plant, right place’ mantra – he’ll happily try out plants from California or Australia just to see how they do in Wales.
Plus, he’s gardening for the long term – the cottage has been in his family for over 80 years and he’s planting for future generations. So it’s just as well that he’s made a note of what he’s planted and has a giant plant encyclopaedia – because they’re probably going to need it.