An Autobiographical Garden - Paradise on a Shoestring
The Creation of the Cloister Gardens
Our land three miles north of Presteigne is hilly, lush and 900 ft above sea level. Karen and myself are laying out a six acre garden from scratch. The design incorporates three acres of broadleaf woodland, orchard terraces, ravine garden, bogland planting, bandstand, dance platform, herbaceous borders and a cloister potager. We inherited half an acre of terrace front garden which is being extensively remodelled to include a yew alley and rose bank.
Our sloping land has led to the construction of at least a dozen flights of steps and numerous flights of fancy.
The project is an autobiographical work of landscape art chronicling my upbringing in Southend-on-Sea, our eighteen year relationship and onwards. My 40 year life as an artist, Karen’s career in therapeutic gardening, our passions, commitments and concerns are woven into the scheme.
Formerly we lived in London. In 2012 we sold up, settled up and moved wholeheartedly up here, leaving a full life in the city for a dizzyingly busy one here in Presteigne.
Not being rich - far from it - we are building paradise on a shoestring. New friends, neighbours and the glories of the local freecycle network have provided an abundance of plants, bricks and a cornucopia of disparate materials, essential now or at some unknown future. Things need to be saved from the landfill. We are a wide-ranging plant rescue service, nothing with the exception of ground elder is refused.
For the past four years it has been Karen and myself furiously beavering and flailing away, shifting earth, mixing cement, lugging stone and demolishing old barns - all by hand. And all the time there is weeding, weeding, weeding. We are permanently exhausted and ecstatic. I have countless plates spinning; like a dog marking its territory I sign to every location of endeavour that it is acknowledged. Even if it is just a cane in the earth, a wall begun, a note in the sketchbook, or a mixed metaphor.
Formal, intimate and wild; considered and unbidden. An Art work in the process of being transferred from heart and head to the land, with, of course, its permission. If the soil doesn’t like it you soon know. It can’t be for the ego; it must be holding hands with nature. This is a new reality, not a dream we are caressing into being, in the bizarre hope that others will be drawn to it and in doing so locate their own personal heart-song.
This garden is both permanent and changing. In my head it is complete, every day a little more coaxed from the land. The head is a mighty generator of enthusiasms; our two pairs of hands are tasked to out-perform themselves. A recent addition is the Skywell mound.
The pilots of light aircraft passing overhead will see the shapes, loops and axes laid out. I can see them and have to hold the notion in my head. Like the Nazca lines in Peru created for dream eyes in the sky. The choreography of this garden has to be walked and danced. The pilots see what I know is there, the rhythms of life, love and growth cast across our fields.
Malcolm Temple, The Cloister Gardens, June 2017