The China-Room

At the back of the hallway at Ty Isaf, a low, half-glazed door leads to the china-room. It’s little more than a cupboard really, made out of a section of what was once a servants’ passageway running the width of the house. Decorated in a glowing pinky-red chalk emulsion and fitted with a dresser-rack of black-painted shelves, it’s a combination cabinet-of-curiosities and china repository. There are clockwork tin toys, artists’ ceramics, toy farm animals made of painted lead, fossils and tacky souvenirs. Bits of model sets from my years as a stage designer, hand-crafted gifts from talented friends, a fine bone-china ‘blue dragon’ tea-service, found objects, plastic toys and family heirlooms.

Small children love it, as do I.

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june garden

Everything this year seems a week or so ahead. The Spring was glorious, and Summer came early. The grass is already waist high in the orchards and in the parts of the garden where we allow it to romp away.

I love it when the paths are freshly mown through the long grass.

Above: the walnut tree in the middle of this photograph was a gift from our friends Catriona and Ian. It was a tiddler, rescued by Catriona and passed on to us. (She was an inveterate rescuer of trees, buying up the waifs and strays from failing nurseries and passing them on to where she thought they’d be appreciated.) For ten years it languished in a pot because our city garden was pocket-handkerchief sized. When we came to Ty Isaf we discovered that the tap-root had rotted away, and we feared for its survival. But nine years after planting in open ground, it’s six feet high and thriving. I love this tree with a passion. To the right in the foreground are branches of one of two mulberries we acquired and planted when we arrived, both now doing well and fruiting.

Peter despairs of this bed, shaking his head at the ferns, nettles and grasses that we’ve never been able to eradicate from it. But I like it, with its pink punctuations of knotweed, the various euphorbia, the profligate campion and the shy cranesbills that romp happily together with anything else that chances survival in such mixed company. There’s a headily scented wild lilac, a splendidly towering cardoon, and yet to come, a flood of yellow loosestrife. I like the surprises that crop up, the myriad greens and varied shapes of leaves. I’m a lazy gardener in terms of what I’ll tolerate. I like a touch of wildness in my borders. Victorian-style formal mixed-bedding and hard-edges are not for me. The bed is also home to a thriving Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Pendula’- see below), the so-called ‘toffee tree’ named because of the fantastic scent of burnt sugar it gives up when its leaves turn a glorious buttery yellow in the autumn. The sweet scent is caused by the molecule maltol, released as the leaf breaks down, which is the same molecule present when sugar is burnt to make caramel.

Above: rock roses are good value in the herbaceous border. The papery flowers only last a day, but they keep coming throughout the summer.

Below: By this stage, order gives way to chaos as nature turns up the volume and the party really gets rocking. My best intentions to organise colour get swept away by the sheer profligacy of what goes on in the beds. The shy flowers of spring… the grape hyacinths and primroses… give way to the hedonists of summer. Oriental poppies are snakily rearing, late-comers ready to explode on the scene. Uninvited foxgloves and Welsh poppies… our native yellow variety… are everywhere, and soon the majestic mulleins will gatecrash, their great spires of felted silver leaves and dense pale yellow flowers punctuating the rowdy masses of multi-hued Columbine, the pale, roseate froth of London Pride and the rampant, pleated leaves of Lady’s Mantle. It’s a carnival down there, or as close as we get such things in the relative sobriety of a Welsh country garden!

Over it all presides ‘Meri’s Beast’, the ‘garden-warming’ gift made by Meri Wells for Ty Isaf when we moved here nearly a decade ago. For a few years, until we made a pedestal for him above the lawn, Meri’s Beast watched the Ystwyth Valley from a window of my studio. But he was always meant for the garden, and it was a pleasure to finally situate him where he keeps an eye on all the comings and goings. I’ve noticed that one of his horns has become the favoured perching-spot of a robin, who comes to watch when I play ‘fetch’ with Jack on the grass. I must remember to carry the camera in my pocket to see if I can get a picture of him. He leaves his calling-cards down the beast’s back, evidence of his regular use of the horn as a look-out tower! And only ever the beast’s left horn. Evidently the right one is not to his liking.

Footnote: the following has been added due to demand from my dog’s fans. (You know who you are!)