A Tale of Two Gardens

Part One

I bought the book 'The Laskett, the story of a garden' (Roy Strong) several years ago.  I was prompted to buy it because I am interested in gardening in general (no, really, I am) and because Sir Roy Strong cited Clough Williams Ellis as giving him inspiration.
The book did not disappoint.  It is a very personal account of a garden and a marriage and I enjoyed it immensely.  I really wanted to see the garden for myself, but at the time this was a vain hope.

A couple of weeks ago suddenly the opportunity arose via twitter; a day of visiting The Laskett and then to Veddw became a possibility and I admit, I leaped at the chance.  I knew of Veddw from the Stephen Anderton book 'Discovering Welsh Gardens'.  I purchased this book a couple of years ago as I spend a fair amount of my time in North Wales and it passed the Wales garden test - it had a chapter on Plas Brondanw.  I saw the chapter on the Veddw and thought how good it looked, but it was south Wales which I rarely visit.
The great day arrived.  I even remembered to bring the cake I baked for the Veddw picnic and I set off for my two hour journey to the Laskett.  I arrived on time (hurrah) and met up with the various people I had only met previously on twitter.  If you are like me and do not use a photograph of myself as an avatar, then this makes recognising each other an interesting event.

We then wandered off around the Laskett it to discover it in our own various ways.   For about two hours I discovered the garden and there was much to discover.  It is about four acres in total and winds this way and that.  Parts are highly formal and others more relaxed and informal.
 and here was the issue, parts of it I really liked, parts worked incredibly well; other parts left me rather cold.  The statuary, urns, arches etc so beloved in Portmeirion to me, at times jarred and didn't quite fit.  This was quite confusing for me.  I expected to like, nay love this garden.  Whilst others grumbled that the statuary was too much I expected to embrace the randomness and take it to my CWE idolising heart.  But, dear reader, I'm sad to say that in some areas I did not.

The Elizabethan Walk was beautiful; a green, calming walkway with shaped hedges either side that framed views through to the other areas of the garden.

 This part of the garden though, for me was too formal.  It did not look like a garden that would be part of a home that you would sit and enjoy.  There in itself suddenly became a thought, where did you sit in this garden?  Most of the garden appeared to be for walking through not sitting and enjoying.

Different people use their gardens in different ways, it is not wrong, just different.
When I returned home I saw someone else had posted a photograph of this pot as an example of what they did not like in the garden.  I post it here as I liked the pot and I liked the mosaic paving around it.  What I missed from my photograph and the other person included was the scrubby planting around it.  This area looked forgotten and neglected; a little sad if truth be told.  It has the feeling of either a project not completed or one passed its day.

I really liked this part of the garden, walking behind what I would disrespectfully call a bint in the woods.  I liked this view in particular, it makes her look like she is playing hide and seek.  The planting was loose and naturalistic and worked really well with the framing of trees.

This is another example of where the statuary really worked.  These statues almost look like they are talking to each other.  It was a bit of a Labyrinth moment!

The key thing about The Laskett is that it is a highly personal garden.  Some of the areas I liked the most were the areas with plaques with their initials on and the commemorative urns.  These were highly personal yet open statements of themselves and that gave the garden a real personal touch.  At Portmeirion there are plaques dedicated to particularly beautiful summers and this use of commemoration I like.

It is fair to say that I did enjoy much of The Laskett, but I also found some of it very disjointed and over formal.  I came away from the garden disappointed and I have spent some time thinking about why I felt that way.

I expected a lot from the garden and maybe it could not meet those expectations; maybe I expected too much, I had a similar feeling of disappointment from the white garden at Sissinghurst (it turned out it was white).  I have also spent time thinking about why I look at this garden which has referenced Portmeirion and yet it did not please me as I thought it would.

It took a while to reach a conclusion on this aspect, however I think I have finally worked it out.  Portmeirion was never designed as a private garden whereas The Laskett was.  Portmeirion was a case study into how the landscape and architecture can be in harmony.  It was always going to be open to the public in order to help fund its development and its future.  If I compare The Laskett with Clough Williams Ellis's private garden, Plas Brondanw then suddenly the difference is clear.  Plas Brondanw has some statuary but is far calmer, far more understated than Portmeirion.  It is a garden of vistas and views, water and green walks.  Plas Brondanw shows that less is more.
The key point though must be that whatever I think of The Laskett is was created as a private garden for two people to enjoy, it was not intended to be opened to the public.  Maybe they should stress more that it is not a public garden that is sometimes private, but a private garden that is sometimes public; I think there is a difference.  I would still recommend the book highly as it is a great story of the creation of a garden.

A further review of this garden by Emma Bond and more discussion can be found at the ThinkinGardens website here.

I am really glad that I finally got to The Laskett, I found areas that I could take ideas from and also areas that confirmed what I do not want in my own garden.  This is what garden visiting is about to me.  This is a tale of two gardens though, the Veddw will be a future post.


  1. Yes, thanks so much for this review.
    I must look at it more closely in due course because you raise some interesting questions about expectation and status. I suppose tho the truth of the matter is that it is open to the public and on that basis must face scrutiny as to how it is for us when we see it?
    Thank and Best wishes

  2. This is very interesting and well considered - and raises important questions.

    One is about photographs! - the difference your 'editing' of the pot and mosaic makes is astonishing, isn't it? This is partly how we ended up with high expectations, I think. Photographs,the entrance fee = £10 and the hype in the media.

    Having a personal garden open to the public myself (a valid and useful distinction)I don't think this excludes attempting to make the very best that is possible.

    The opening to the public means for me that I won't compromise my taste and preferences but I will endeavour to do my best to make people's visit rewarding.

    The Laskett felt too neglected and sad for this.There is also, as you say, too little evidence of the garden being loved: nowhere to sit in comfort is very strange to me.

    I think it may do a disservice to a garden as well as the visitors, to talk it up bigger than its real weight?


  3. Anne - I realised when I was looking at my photos I had made a basic error; I had largely photographed what I liked and not what I did not because I generally photograph to remind me of ideas. Lesson learned!

    I agree, the garden is over-hyped and this almost guarantees it will disappoint. I expected too much and the photographs only show the good bits people want you to see.

  4. I am married to a professional photographer and he does just the same! Even when I ask him not to - he describes it as compulsive....

  5. ozhene, I much enjoyed my visit to your Blog today. You made some excellent points about private and public gardens. Good insight. I think I might like Plas Brondanw since the idea there as you say is "less is more" That follows the Golden Principle of design I posted back on May 2, 2011. Though I will admit, I don't tightly follow that principle in my own gardens here on Lake MIchigan. Will be visiting soon again. Jack

  6. Hi Jack - thanks for this, I have been followig your blog for a while and enjoy it. I confess also, I say less is more but do not stick to that - but then mine is a private garden........ :-)

  7. Your comments on garden photography ring very true with my wife and I. We recently visited a local garden as part of our local garden club programme. The garden had been talked up quite a bit and the reality was a disappointment. However, we had a visitor yesterday who asked to see the photographs I had taken on the day. He thought the garden looked well and my wife couldn't believe it was the same garden we had visited. I enjoy photography and, of course, photograph those views or items which appeal to me and which look well. Who wants to look at photographs of weed patches, bad design, poor construction, clashing planting etc?

  8. Hi Paddy I agree, it is difficult to photograph the bits you want to forget! I think I can tell how much I like a garden by how many photographs I take, the fewer there are the more I didn't like it, I am clearly not getting anything from it.

  9. Too much statuary! You don't know where to look. In that second picture, there's a lion, and a box ball, and something else behind the lion and a very distracting foxglove. Very confusing.
    I had to laugh out loud when I got to the comments about the pot - I've got those pots in my garden (dead cheap Thai stuff from a garden centre just outside Croydon. I wonder if that's where Sir Roy got his...?)
    I'm always saying "Less is more" to myself too. And then completely ignore it.
    Really enjoyed the post. Off to read what you thought of Veddw now!


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