Tag Archives: Wildside

Wonderful, wild, Wiley


Photo above from http://www.desertusa.com

On Saturday I attended a talk by garden creator Keith Wiley.  I’ve mentioned Keith once before as he was head gardener/manager at the Garden House, near Yelverton in Devon, when I took my mother there for a magical 80th birthday outing over ten years ago.  I was stunned by what he had created; it was just so fresh and new.  Since then, I was aware he had moved on to creating his own garden, with his artist wife Ros, on an apple orchard site just down the road from the Garden House, and was fascinated to hear more about it.

Let me start by saying the word ‘enthusiast’ struggles to convey Keith’s incredible passion for nature, plants, flowers and gardens – and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the amount of Latin he spoke in the space of one day before.  I could have done with a copy of all the slides and a recording of Keith’s talk so that I could have enjoyed all he had to offer more than just the once!

Clearly, I don’t have copies of his photos, so, very rarely for this blog, the photos are nearly all other peoples’.  I have included a few from a site he introduced us to (www.desertusa.com, all clearly marked) as well as one from Peter Korn (see below).  In addition, to see photos of Keith’s new garden, Wildside, there are some stunning photos taken by Andrew Lawson, to accompany an article by Stephen Lacey for the Telegraph,  here.

The day started with a number of views of plants growing in the wild.  Keith has travelled extensively, and we saw some gasp inducing wild flower vistas from South Africa, New England, Crete, the Swiss Alps, Lake District and Cornwall.  The unifying theme was one of a ‘community of flowers’.   What Keith has tried to move away from is ‘block’ type planting where plants are kept separate, and instead recreate what is seen in the wild, where plants interweave and encroach on each other, giving a completely different and far more naturalistic effect.

This made me think about the wild flowers on the Duver, and of course a recent shot I posted of the chamomile with the thrift demonstrates Keith’s point exactly:


At the Garden House, Keith had adopted this approach and had planted plants to – his words – ‘drizzle and drift’.  To a large degree in the area he developed away from the main house, plants were allowed to self seed, but this did require very careful weeding to ensure the retained seedlings were the right ones.  He mentioned an incident when one of his ‘helpers’ had assiduously weeded out every plant of the Common Tormentil (Potentilla tormentilla) because she saw it as a weed.  Keith, conversely, saw it as a unifying plant ‘drizzled’ across an area, bringing cohesion and repetition.  He didn’t speak to her for two days.

He also introduced us to the idea of ‘Beauty when you look closely’ as well as ‘harmony at all levels’.  Not only should planting combinations look good very close to, but as you step back, that harmony should remain, right up to when you’re looking at a complete vista.  This is a bold ambition, but it certainly doesn’t make it a bad one.

And look how well it can happen in nature –  another photo from http://www.desertusa.com below:flower bloom

From here he discussed the approach of gardening in sand favoured by Peter Korn.  Peter gardens in Sweden and, looking at his website, has created an absolutely stunning garden, with an incredible diversity of flora. The photo below is from his website www.peterkornstradgard.se

At the Garden House Keith had established some areas with a sandy ‘top layer’ and is keen to do the same at Wildside when funds permit.

Moving onto Wildside,  the garden he moved to in 2004, Keith showed us first the south facing field, with views towards attractive Devon countryside in the distance, that was his starting point.  He recognised that the garden would need some protection but was loathe to plant hedges or larger trees as he didn’t want to lose the view.  Instead he took the approach to landscape the site significantly to achieve the protection he was looking for, without forsaking the borrowed landscape.  At the same time he also created areas of shade where his man made gradients created shadow.

Whilst this conveys what Keith was trying to achieve, what it doesn’t convey is the scale.  And the scale of these earthworks is massive – in some areas he has created “canyons” of over 45ft. Overall he believes that by contouring the land he has turned the surface planting area from four acres to six.  So much more room to play in!

The rest of the talk was spent showing the different  areas of planting and explaining how, by his landscaping works, he has been able to create very varied habitats, not only light and shade, but also different levels of top soil over the shillet (shale) base, depending on the size and preference of the plants he wants to use in the different areas.  He has, for example, created one particular bank with his favourite plant, Erythroniums, in mind, as well as another one for Amaryllis and Nerines.  He has also created what he thinks is a world first, a ‘Wisteria wood’ which was absolutely extraordinary.  He has planted a number (may be as many as a dozen) of different species of wisteria grown as trees (ie not as lollipops!) in a gentle valley area and then underplanted them with hundreds of different bulbs.

I could go on and on but think I’ll leave it there.  Without relevant photos I really can’t convey adequately everything Keith has achieved or indeed the emotional effect his planting has on people.  This is something I first felt at the Garden House all those years ago,  but I certainly felt it again looking at photos of Wildside.  Keith thinks it may be because of the closer link to nature than in many gardens,  but whatever it is, it certainly got to me!

Suffice to say I’ve come away with pages and pages of notes and plant names, as well as a definite idea of a spot in my garden where I’d really like to try this approach out.  I’ll be putting in my order for Keith’s book “On the Wild Side: Experiments in New Naturalism” as soon as I’ve posted this post.

To finish another stunning wild flower view from DesertUSA: