Pulling Together in Tenby & Moylegrove Gardens

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So many people have been inspired by their parents or grandparents to become gardeners.  Memories of happy times in previous family gardens often influence, sometimes subliminally, how we make our own gardens and even give us a feeling of continuing the family traditions.  I, for instance, couldn’t not grow sweet peas and runner beans every summer – it would seem almost a betrayal of my grandparents whose garden produced enough for our three families in the village to become thoroughly bored of eating beans by the end of September.

My parents gardens, in my rose-tinted memories, were always places of sunshine and dry lawns perfect for performing acrobatics, which is possibly why I still love the sound of lawnmowers on a Friday evening (though I imagine my father probably resented having to do the mowing after a week at work – hopefully that glorious smell of cut grass calmed him down, ready for a relaxing weekend.)

Both John and Shari Argent at Scotsborough House in Tenby had parents who were avid gardeners – Back in Nebraska, Shari, from a young age, was shown by her father how to do the weeding and to pick the yellow leaves off the roses.  They live in John’s family home and continue the garden started by his mother, Gwen, back in the 50s with love and respect for her plantings, now beautifully mature. 

Visiting with the tail-end of Storm Hannah, we walked around the garden with the wind carrying our conversation who knows where.  This is a large garden with enviable relics of the old greenhouses formerly part of the grounds of The Grove next door – a large elegant house created from the more modest original by David Harrison a wealthy, and subsequently disgraced local horse trainer, in 1910.  Rosemary Rhys-Davies has lived at The Grove since 1965 and along with her son Julius in West Grove, opens her garden for the National Gardens Scheme with John and Shari’s – this year on Sunday 30th June. 

The original tennis court for The Grove is now a formal lawn for Scotsborough House but John and Shari are now leaving areas of grass to grow long and planting and encouraging wild flowers to make the area more interesting and beneficial to wildlife.  John has recently acquired a new ‘European Scythe’, lighter than the original and intends to cut back on petrol consumption by scything the long grass instead.  This concern for wildlife overrides some traditional gardening thoughts – a tree and a shrub placed arguably too close together back in the day, remain precisely where Gwen planted them as they are favourites of the birds.  They’re also close to a window so Shari, who is an avid wildlife photographer, can get some really good shots with her camera.

New fruit trees are being trained along the old greenhouse walls where previously peaches grew.  Though only one greenhouse remains complete with glass, the walls and foundations of the others have a romance of the past.  John showed me a grapevine the last remaining of the originals already mature when he was a child.  “They tasted so sweet, they were wonderful” he says.  “My brother and I were given the job of thinning the grapes – taking out individual grapes from a bunch to enable the others to grow bigger.”  (I suggest that this might actually just have been his mother’s way of keeping two young boys out of trouble in the summer holidays.)

Other historic elements remain in the garden – a Victorian Fernery and the Tenby Daffodil, apparently discovered here by Nurseryman Mr Shaw in 1872 – but what I enjoyed most was the shaped shrubs.  All sorts of trees and shrubs in all three gardens have been lovingly pruned and topiarised to make a beautiful picture – in fact the forms are not unlike what a child (or in fact a garden designer) would draw to illustrate trees in a garden.  I am sure Gwen would approve as John tells me she used to say about her garden “This is my painting.”  Eleagnus, holly, bay and cypress are all clipped to perfection.  Strong shapes of larger evergreen plants provide backbone, provide contrast to perennial planting and in my view really make a garden a garden, rather than a collection of plants.  If these shrubs were left to their own devices they would still be beautiful plants, but through careful pruning and trimming they become artful and elegant human touches and in this garden complement the various sculptures acquired over years of hosting a local ‘Sculpture in the Garden’ event.

The shaping continues from Scotsborough House through to traditional planting in the garden of The Grove and into West Grove where it brings an element of serenity to a garden perfect for children with its hidden paths and hiding places.  Opening these three gardens together makes perfect sense and the owners have a friendship going back as far as the original plantings themselves.

A group opening for charity – when several gardens in one village or area open on the same day together – is one of my favourite things to attend.  How often can you walk around a pretty village and perfectly legally wander into peoples’ gardens for a nose?  Thanks to the efforts of horticulturist and village resident Sue Sturges, Moylegrove Gardens are opening on 2nd June to raise money for their Village Hall.  It’s a lovely old building that until fairly recently served as the local school.  In fact Moylegrove is full of lovely old buildings and with around ten gardens opening together on the same day I can’t think of a nicer place to spend an early summer Sunday.

Visitors will collect tickets and a guide from The Old School (Village Hall) where there will be home-made teas and a display of garden themed arts and crafts.  There will be crafts to buy, as well as plants that you may well spot on your tour.  And there are some really interesting plants in this village, not least in Bruce Slark’s Forest Garden where almost everything is edible.

Bruce arrived in the coastal village of Moylegrove in 2000 knowing he wanted to make a Forest Garden, having been influenced by the writing of Robert Hart and Martin Crawford, leading proponents of the approach.  The idea is to plant to produce as much food as efficiently as you can and indeed Bruce is now literally enjoying the fruits (and nuts etc) of his labour.  This is a fascinating place if you think you know your plants because it may well turn out you don’t know them as well as you thought!  We saw lots of plants we recognised but had no idea you could eat their fruit.  I won’t spoil the surprises because Bruce will be giving guided tours on 2nd June. 

This style of gardening may very well appeal to a new generation of ‘Holistic Gardeners’ who may not be interested in making classical gardens but something more functional and arguably better for the planet, so if you know someone who thinks they’re not interested in gardening but who is interested in food take them along!

At the bottom of the village two properties sit either side the pretty stream – both are open on 2nd June.  Ann Roberts’ owns one of them and her garden quite took our breath away!  Not only is it one of the nicest gardens I have seen in the county, it is an absolute marvel to discover that Ann had done everything herself.  Not only the digging and planting – the usual gardening work – but all the paths too, which meant barrowing slabs and cobbles up and down her hillside plot; not only that but the stone steps rising from one area to another; not only that but the wooden pergolas making pretty walkways and sitting areas; not only that but the pools and ponds; not only that but the swinging seat and benches around the garden; not only that but a lovely wooden bridge; not only that but some pretty wooden playhouses for the grandchildren.  Ann simply laughs off our admiration and praise and she is modest too about her knowledge of plants but this is a beautifully planted garden as well.  Ann is clearly someone with a really good idea of design, an artistic and creative soul and an absolute determination to get things done!  Go and see it – you will be amazed!

Walking back up the village we found our way next to Kingsley Chesworth’s home – previously the old Manse for the local parson.  The pretty garden is visible on the approach but we continued down past a nice old building that used to house the pony and trap the parson was entitled to as he was also parson for Poppit Sands.    Kingsley has a non-interventionist approach to much of his land – fallen trees are left to become homes for wildlife and to gather moss and provide new interest as gnarled natural sculpture.  He has however, unearthed an old pond into which newts have happily moved.  We pass a medieval wall overgrown with wild plants and trees to a pretty area of birch and hazel planted by Kingsley 19 years ago.  I think it must be a lovely feeling to point at a fully grown tree and say “I planted that as a whip” and Kingsley can be rightly proud of what he has achieved here.   His land backs on to Bruce’s so it is nice to know there is a harmony in the village – like-minded people taking good care of the land.

At the end of Kingsley’s land there is a beautiful view of Ceibwr Bay and on 2nd June it will be possible to walk through this lovely woodland down to another garden situated right on the coast there.   What a perfect garden-visiting day that will be!

More information about Moylegrove Gardens can be found here http://www.opengardens.co.uk/open_gardens.php?id=2279

More information about the Heywood Lane, Tenby Gardens and other gardens open for the National Gardens Scheme can be found here https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/34763/

And don’t forget Llwyngarreg Garden that featured in my last piece is open this coming Sunday.

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Sarah Wint

Sarah Wint

Sarah Wint has been gardening for 24 years and is still learning. In 2015 she toured the country in her old campervan ‘Daisybus’ visiting gardens and finding stories about how gardens have affected people’s lives which she tells in the book ‘Sunshine Over Clover – Gardens of Wellbeing’. In 2016 Sarah and her husband, ecologist William, moved to the St Davids Peninsula and started making another garden.

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