Twelve years ago we went on our honeymoon to Wales, with a seven month old baby there was no way I was getting on a plane and anyway Pembrokeshire is gorgeous. We stayed in Solva, up the hill from the harbour, and spent our time quietly. We found lovely restaurants, cafes and galleries while wandering in Porthgain, Solva and St Davids. St Davids was where, in a tiny shop, we found “Can You See A Little Bear” by James Mayhew, illustrations by Jackie Morris. It became our bedtime book of choice, the rhythm of the words and the captivating illustrations just the thing for tired babies (and parents) to wind down at the end of the day; there is such beauty and magic in that little book.
All of which is to say I’ve been a huge fan of Jackie’s art ever since, and can still remember passages from Little Bear. This week sees the publication of a new collaboration with James Mayhew “Mrs Noah’s Garden” and to celebrate the birthday of this book Jackie invites us to share our gardens in an online garden festival. Her own garden is a wild wonderland, you can see her beautiful space here.
Mrs Noah’s Garden is published by Otter Barry Books. Signed copies can be bought from Solva Woollen Mill (where I bought an alpaca fleece on my honeymoon). Do buy from independent book shops if you possibly can, they are doing sterling work! (my local is Mostly Books…they’re marvellous).
We’re enormously lucky to have a lot of space, I never take it for granted. Back in the before times, I’d think – if I had all the time in the world, I’d spend it out there. It turns out these strange times have let to that happening, for a while anyway. This is the view from my ‘desk’ (old kitchen table) just now. It is not a tidy garden, always a wheelbarrow or a hose or a barbecue in the picture; but we use everything until it’s very old and mended, so they begin to blend in . The greatest joy is the trees we look onto in the nature reserve behind. Trees are the best. Let’s go out of the door and see some more.
Just out there is a fig tree. This tree lived in a pot for a long time and was unhappy, I didn’t know what to do. Then, one Friday evening, Monty Don saved it, “plant figs by a wall in a warm spot”, he said, “and they’ll do well”. Of course he was right. We – and the wasps – now get fresh figs every summer, these figs are like figs I’ve eaten in Andalucia, and I’m spoilt for anything else now. Opposite there is an olive tree, and a lemon. It’s the hottest part of the garden and I can feel it leading me to make it into a Spanish courtyard, so we can pretend to be abroad, even when we’re not.
Further on, in the lawn (there is a lot of lawn and it’s not my favourite thing, but as my husband is lawnsman it takes no time from me!) we planted three silver birches, a tiny druids grove which makes a lovely sound in the breeze when you lounge beneath it to watch red kites and swifts. The bird table brings tits and robins, and squirrels.
Round the patio there is no plan. The rose came with the house and just flowers every year quite happily, until it disappears into the sweet peas which also return every year, both here and in new places. Just as the poppies do. I have planted three poppies in this garden and now they are, delightfully, everywhere as are field poppy immigrants from the local area. All are welcome, and everything is allowed to roam and grow, like the thyme, the sage and the poached egg plants.
I made the big bottles and the silver birch sculpture. I like making big pots…
The garden guardians; Woody the cat who thinks he’s a dog, Mr. Penguin, and the border birds (both made by a friend of my mother in law).
The plan was to build an extension, and a workshop for me, so I can stop making pots in the dining room. We got the permissions and cleared a piece of land for the workshop but circumstances changed and now, and for a little bit longer, it’s a totally wild patch. Even though it’s so dry here (we’re in an old quarry works) I found a tiny clump of wild garlic growing this spring. There are marguerites and borage, honesty from this year and last year, herb robert, campions, grasses, love in the mist and the biggest thistle I ever saw. I think there may also be a ragwort.
The butterflies settle here, the bees buzz about and no doubt there are numerous invertebrates doing their thing in the jungle beneath.
We have damsel and dragonflies coming into the garden too, from the reserve behind us. A steady stream of blue damsel flies on a warm afternoon is a fabulous thing to see, and the dragonflies come to rest and dry out their wings on the taller bits of the garden.
And it never stops, at night there are bats and badgers, you can hear the muntjac deer barking. We discovered we have a fox nearby from a photograph on the wildlife camera. Last summer my friend brought her moth trap round and we found amazing creatures like the elephant and poplar hawk moths, along with the little brown ones I see occasionally; there are definitely not as many moths now as there were.
Further on there’s a potato patch – this is it’s first year – next to the den my husband built for our son (and ourselves) and the grave of our much loved cat Spooky, who wasn’t with us long but made a big impression. At the back one of the many wood stores, where we sometimes find robins nests. In the tree behind here the blackbird sings for hour, next door’s beech hedge is just coming into its summer self. There’s a small veg patch and an untidy greenhouse.
In this garden I try to make my own plants as much as possible, saving seed and propagating, moving things around while trying not to disturb too much. Reusing old things and making new ones (I made drip trays from old compost bags this year) makes everything so much more interesting. I think is a way of gardening many may have discovered through necessity this year, and I hope it will continue. One of my favourite gardeners, Alys Fowler, says “gardening is something you do, not something you buy […] when you build a little, dig a bit, plant a little, harvest often and more importantly don’t try to do it all at once, nature will work with you” . It’s such a satisfying way of gardening and it may be slow but, maybe, we have come to see over the past few weeks that a bit of slow is alright, it’s good.