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.