Nant-y-Bedd: a forest garden in the Black Mountains
Surrounded by mature coniferous forest in the Brecon Beacons, the organic, natural garden of Sue and Ian Mabberley has been a 40-year labour of love. Words Sarah Price, photographs Jason Ingram
Sue and Ian Mabberley have spent 40 years developing the wild, organic garden that surrounds their ivy-clad former forester’s cottage. In an area dominated by dark Forestry Commission conifer plantations, it stands out as an oasis of wild planting, and their pretty front garden has become a local landmark.
Nant-y-Bedd blends so seamlessly into the wider landscape that it is easy to overlook the dedication of Sue and Ian, who clearly recognise the garden as part of a greater landscape and larger timescale than our own.
Their intuitive, light-touch approach comes from years of observation and trial. They’ve welcomed nature in, and though the hand of the gardener is evident, it often feels secondary; almost invisible to the atmosphere and rich biodiversity of this special place.
What Organic country garden and woodland.
Size Ten acres.
Soil Free-draining, slightly acidic.
Climate Extreme as gardening at an altitude of 366m; harsh, wet winters and short springs and summers. Above average rainfall for Wales (1,497mm in 2021).
Hardiness zone USDA 9a.
Spanning the stream Nant-y-Bedd (or stream of the grave), which gives the house and garden its name, a simple wooden bridge links the Cottage Garden at the front of the house to the Edible Forest Garden.
Cars often slow down when passing the Cottage Garden at the front of the house as people admire the prettiness of it all. The garden includes a small wildlife pond surrounded by Persicaria bistorta, Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ and self-seeded Welsh poppies.
Watch a tour of the Nant-Y-Bedd garden
A spectacularly long – and to some terrifying – rope bridge leads visitors across a steep gorge filled with native ferns. This bridge links the more cultivated Potager Garden with the wilds of the meadow, woodland pasture and natural swimming pool. Here, naturalised Camassia leichtlinii subsp. suksdorfii and the white daffodil Narcissus poeticus grow in rough pasture requiring very little maintenance.
Sunlight fills the organic Potager Garden, a space that appears carved out of the forest. Hazel poles are coppiced from the riverside to create domes, wigwams and a long bean tunnel, all built to withstand snow, rain and high winds. A dry-stone wall beautifully colonised with moss and ferns creates a clear boundary between garden and forest.
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Towering Douglas firs, some as tall as 36m, create a protective backdrop to the serene natural swimming pool clearing. To the southwest, beyond the infinity reflections of the pool, lie spectacular alpine-like views down a valley of woodland pasture.
Straddled within a veteran sycamore nestles a two-storey tree house constructed by Dan Tuckett out of sweet chestnut and larch. A steep climb up to the top ‘yoga deck’ rewards you with views through woodland towards pasture, a picnic meadow and the gushing Grwyne Fawr river.
Sue and Ian see value and possibility in all the materials of the surrounding forest and landscape – both natural and man-made. Much of the garden incorporates locally salvaged materials such as containers used as planters or corrugated sheeting, here used as border edging. Many of the rusted steel plant supports are hand forged on-site by Ian.
Persicaria bistorta loves Nant-y-Bedd’s damp conditions, growing vigorously among self-seeded native Dryopteris ferns, Welsh poppies, Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ and white tulips. The persicaria’s pink bottle-brush flowers put on a show for weeks throughout summer.
7 plants from Nant-y-Bedd Garden
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Visit Nant-y-Bedd Garden
Nant-y-Bedd, Fforest Coal Pit, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire NP7 7LY. Tel 01873 890219, nantybedd.com. Open July to September, Friday to Sunday, 2-6pm (tickets must be pre-booked), and at other times by appointment. Admission £7.
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