Charity begins at our home

PUBLISHED: 15:15 03 July 2014 | UPDATED: 15:15 03 July 2014

Ros and Keith Wiley find a spiritual connection in their garden

Ros and Keith Wiley find a spiritual connection in their garden


A Devon couple have created an extraordinary garden from a four-acre plot. CATHY SAYERS went to visit them as they prepared to open it up for a day in aid of St Luke’s Hospice

Ros Wiley: 'I imagine what could be a particular addition to the garden and put it in a picture'Ros Wiley: 'I imagine what could be a particular addition to the garden and put it in a picture'

The Wileys are workers. They spent 25 years masterminding The Garden House near Tavistock where Keith was head gardener and curator. Then they bought a four-acre plot half a mile down the road. Once a Devon cider orchard, it’s now been transformed by this hard-working couple into a magnificent garden creation. And somewhere where the public can visit on an open day as part of St Luke’s Open Garden Scheme on 6 July.

I am standing with Keith and his wife Ros at the top of the plot surveying the scene at Wildside, their stunning creation. “When we bought this field in 2004 it was flat and my biggest job was to create atmosphere in planting by building shapes into the landscape,” explains Keith.

He did this with a digger and by moving 75,000 tonnes of soil to create a landscape which from top to bottom measures 45 feet. As we look down from the highest point it romantically resembles the shape of a quarry. Keith adds: “By landscaping you can create different conditions needed for each plant. We make sure the drainage is good and therefore develop happy conditions for what we plant. Part of naturalistic planting is trying to ensure the plant is growing in its natural habitat.”

Keith has been influenced by countryside gardens in South Africa, the southern states of America and dry Mediterranean climates. The Garden House was north facing. Now the Wileys have a south facing plot. Keith says it feels like they’ve come on holiday in the summer. The rain is indeed a factor - they had 60 inches last winter. Keith explains the plants like moisture but must have drainage. Underneath the top soil is a layer of shillet. He shows me the pinks, which don’t normally liking acid soil, but are thriving due to the drainage.

We walk down through the various areas of the garden, each giving out a different mood due to the planting designed to allow plants to thrive as they would in the wild. The abundance of plants is incredible. The grasses create an atmosphere with agapanthus weaving through alongside watsonias, and different types of daphnes in amongst pools of water. By this time Keith is showing me Japanese maples followed by wisteria trees planted in one corner. I marvel at the scale of this project and Keith laughs, saying wryly “it just shows what a pair of old fogeys can do!”

Ros has kindly donated one of her pictures to St Luke’s as part of the raffle to raise funds for the charity hospice and its community work. She paints on board with oils and shows me her studio set in the middle of the garden: “I love flowers but I also enjoy depicting the landscape which Keith has designed.” Her pictures are full of colour and optimism. “Sometimes I re-create a particular part of the garden with great accuracy. Other times I imagine what could be a particular addition to the garden and put it in a picture.”

Keith and Ros work in harmony. He sometimes takes her imagined ideas from a painting and they become a reality in the garden. A true partnership in gardening and creativity. Both Keith and Ros are looking forward to welcoming visitors to their garden on 6 July. It’s a place that has a spiritual connection for both of them.

Ros explains: “We hope by creating magical moments in the garden that those people who’ve lost loved ones and been helped by St Luke’s will find it a place to reflect. We’ve had people with cancer visiting and the one garden they wanted to re-visit was here.”

The Wileys are soon back at work after my visit. They’ve worked tirelessly to make their Wildside garden a haven of naturalistic planting which gives off a special air of tranquillity and spiritual serenity.

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