I am just back from a lovely trip to Wales with my garden writer friends, including Veronica Sliva and Donna Dawson, both of whom conduct garden tours on a regular basis. Donna runs the ICanGarden website that is such a favourite with Canadians from coast to coast.
Landing in Manchester, we were picked up by tour guide Donna Goodman, and her “coachman” Hugh Burnell. (“A bus,” Hugh informed us, “is something you stick your hand out to catch. This is a coach!” That signaled the kind of royal treatment we were to receive throughout the entire trip.) Donna also guided CTV’s Seamus O’Regan when he was in Wales leading up to the royal wedding.
Donna and Hugh whisked us off to Wales where we visitied gardens and estates. We stayed the first night at Bodysgallen Hall, which can trace its origins back to the 17th century. I loved its garden.
We travelled from north to south, stopping at Anglesey and shopping in the same Waitrose supermarket that the newly Royal Kate shops in. We were told that if we took out our cameras, we’d be asked to leave!
We stayed at many lovely manor houses and old estates and visited fabulous gardens as we made our way down the coast. One of these was Gwaenynog Hall in Denbigh, the garden that inspired Beatrix Potter to write the Tales of the Flopsy Bunnies and we talked with her great grand niece, Janie Smith. We went to Portmeirion, where the 60’s TV series, The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan, was filmed. We also toured the gardens at Ynyshir Hall, once owned by Queen Victoria.
But a highlight of the trip was the allotment gardens at Rhonda.
In Wales, there is a certain group of gardeners whose triumphs and tribulations, are shared with the listeners of BBC Radio 2 as part of the Jeremy Vine show. Periodically, Terry Walton, an allotment gardener on the Rhonda hillside in South Wales, is a guest on the show. He has become a bit of a celebrity with an almost cult following throughout the country for his wit and wisdom in regard to the garden.
We had a chance to meet Terry at the allotment and talk to him and his fellow gardeners. It was pouring rain when we arrived so all seven of us crowded into a shed with Terry at the bottom of the hill until the downpour let up enough to at least let us use our umbrellas.
A garden allotment is a public space set aside for gardening by those who don’t have access to land in town. This allotment has been in use for many years, certainly since Terry was a boy of four, in 1950, when he learned to garden with his dad. By the time he was 11, he had an allotment of his own.
Terry is not alone up there on the hillside. It’s a whole community of avid gardeners who populate this place and garden every inch of the 20 allotments. We didn’t meet them all, but we did run into Pete the painter, Keith, Brian, and the man at the top of the hill, Roger.
Albie runs the cafe, a greenhouse, perhaps six by eight feet, in which is lodged a gas stove and a kettle for tea and strong coffee. Albie hauls water from home and always has a tin full of biscuits for favoured guests. He’s had a bit of trouble with his health this past year, but that doesn’t keep him from coming to the garden every day and he is already looking forward to next year’s crop of runner beans.
The guys grow lots of runner beans and cabbage and peas and some potatoes in the ground. The more tender plants such as tomatoes and peppers are grown under glass because of the rain – fungus is a constant threat. I saw carrots growing in big bags, something I’ve been encouraging folks to try here. There are flowers here and there to attract the bees for pollination.
It rains a lot, but because the hillside is so steep, the water quickly runs off and in no time at all, the ground is workable.
The allotments are small – just 300 square yards each – long and narrow, extending from either side of a long pathway up the hill. It’s like a little village, dotted with a variety of small homemade greenhouses and garden sheds, each reflecting the personality of its owner, and every inch of ground is planted with something.
Wales is a country of many moods and terrains, but always green, green, green thanks to the rain and the warming effects of the Gulf Stream. There is something dreamy about the landscape that catches the heart. And gardening is not a pastime here, it is an ingrained way of life.
Yet, back here in Winnipeg where the air is now crisp as a fresh apple and the leaves are turning golden in the sunlight, it is not hard to choose my home. I love this land. Still . . .