Wildside Garden, at Buckland Monochorum in Devon, is the creation of plantsman Keith Wiley and his late wife Ros. I am very lucky that it is almost on my doorstep but I’ve still only managed to visit it four or five times since it first opened. We went again last week, the 28th July and I came away with my head buzzing with impressions and ideas.
It has a website and there appear to be links to things other people have written about it which I don’t want to read before putting my own thoughts into words. It is probably my favourite garden and it is certainly the garden from which I take the greatest inspiration for my own.
Keith started with a flat field and a mini-digger. He has sculpted the ground into a landscape of ridges and valleys, in the process creating a wide range of conditions for plants to grow in. There are sunny, south facing slopes and shady north facing slopes, dry ridge tops and wet valley bottoms. The sculpting must have doubled the surface area of the field he started with so I suspect that the topsoil is adequate in some areas and pretty thin in others. Trees and shrubs have been planted to create shelter and more shade, beneath and on their north side.
Having created these myriad conditions he has used all his plantsmanship to match a truly astonishing range of plants to the most appropriate conditions. He has studied natural plant communities in various parts of the world and seen the way that nature populates areas with an intertwined tapestry of different plants, very different from the discreet blobs of a conventional herbaceous border. The planting looks to have been carried out to create that same effect, but using a wide range of non-native garden plants with very few native species involved. I believe the word he uses is naturalistic, perhaps to distinguish it from the idea of of creating an idealised natural garden using exclusively or primarily native plants.
It looks like the planting is left to find its own equilibrium after the initial planting, with very little intervention. I suspect there is more intervention than is obvious, to control weeds and perhaps to contain or remove overly successful subjects.
I had a look back through my pictures and here are some earlier images. The planting was initially in fairly conventional sized clumps, making me wonder whether the current look was altogether planned or whether it just happened. Without retaking exactly the same viewpoints it is difficult to make detailed comparisons. It is also clear that different areas are planned to peak in different seasons.
It occurs to me also that the effect is very immersive. From start to finish you are surrounded by plants, bombarded with colour and texture and interest. The paths are mostly narrow and winding and the combination of ground modelling and planting means the planting rises up around you much of the time. The experience is more akin to picking your way through a natural landscape than promenading round a garden.