Our new house is the first in a small estate reached via a short but steep road that runs up from the smaller of the two beaches in Cemaes. They say first impressions count, so I am extremely grateful to TNG, who has cleared the weeds and other detritus that you can see were completely obscuring the path in the image below. Strictly speaking this isn’t our (sole) responsibility, our property starts in a slightly blunted point just beyond the two enormous buddlejas. However, half of the remaining houses are holiday cottages and the road into the estate is private, so it seems reasonable for us to at least try to keep the path clear! Mind you, our next door neighbour warned us that this might result in holiday makers deciding to park there in the height of the summer, so we may end up putting some large pots full of something colourful there instead.

First Impressions

The first section of the garden, which lies behind the pond as you look out from the house, is an overgrown shrubbery. There’s a large and rather leggy Brachyglottis, which the RHS tells me I should prune in mid Spring, so I guess it will stay as it is for now.

The rest of the area is dominated by a large evergreen that seems to have suckered enthusiastically, which is choking a purple leaf cherry. There’s also a large patch of ‘Bear’s Breaches’ (Acanthus mollis), brambles and bindweed.

Needs Attention

As you carry on up the road the garden is dominated by the mophead hydrangeas so ubiquitous in coastal gardens in the UK. I’ve never been a particular fan, preferring the lacecaps, and finding them rather stiff shrubs. One can’t deny they make a dramatic statement though, and the flowers are wonderful in a vase.

Front Garden
mauve mophead
white mophead

The neighbours have told us that the the man who used to live here, and who dearly loved his garden, had established a full hedge of hydrangeas all the way along the wall. Apparently the son decided that the garden needed a more open view and chopped most of them down when the house went on to the market two years ago, otherwise it would presumably look more like this:

hydrangea hedge

I’m glad I don’t have to decide what to do with something like that, but I’m pretty sure these mopheads of mine are staying, a sort of “homage” to the coastal gardens of my childhood holidays. Catch them in the right light, and they are really rather lovely – and never let it be said that I can’t be won over occasionally!

hydrangeas in morning sun

As you round the corner into the driveway you are greeted by the obligatory large patch of crocosmia, together with a rose. There is also a rather large bare patch, presumable from the hydrangea chopping, which has been filled with a selection of small heathers, conifers and vinca. I’ll leave you to guess what I think of that!

gate corner
crocosmia glowing

The section of border that runs alongside the driveway is dominated by a variegated shrub and a large conifer, neither of which I am a fan of. At all. Between them, they are choking a pretty hebe, another (very pink) hydrangea, and a Japanese anenome. I think these all deserve a little breathing space, and I am sure I can think of more interesting things to plant with them, but I am rather fond of the dark green evergreen.

driveway border
choked hydrangea
choked- nenome

I haven’t a clue what the dark green evergreen is, something which is becoming a common experience. This garden is full of plants that, even when I know I have seen them before, I can’t identify. I am spending a huge amount of time pouring through books and searching on line, which is how I know that silvery shrub with the yellow flowers is a Brachyglottis (a rather unfortunate name to be landed with if you ask me). Some, so far, are evading indentification, which is where you lovely people come in, I hope! For instance, I know this is really common, particularly in coastal gardens, and I know I will kick myself when someone tells me the answer, but please, what is this:

mystery plant

In fact, while you’re at it, how about this:

mystery plant

One plant I haven’t really mentioned so far, also a stalwart of coastal gardens in the UK, is the fuchsia. I have inherited lots. Actually, to be more accurate, I have multiples of two fuchsias, and a single rather lovely bronze leaved one currently being choked by the mopheads. I am distinctly unimpressed by one of the types I have lots of. None of the plants (I think there are six) have many blooms, and didn’t when we were here earlier in the year either. They may just be sluggish due to the lousy weather, and I’ll certainly not be going crazy and chucking them all. The second type is a classic hedging fuchsia, one I have seen lots of around here. We have a large and rather splendid one at the front end of the garden just before the congested shrubbery.

large fuchsia

It makes for a pretty backdrop, and provides excellent privacy at this, the busiest time of the year in Cemaes. But it is in wrong place. This is the view from our dining table, which is set in a window at the front of the house looking out over the garden:

room without a sea view

The fuchsia is perfectly positioned to block the view down to the sea. We have it from our bedroom window. We have it from the landing. If you strain, you have it from out in front of the house. But not from the lounge window, and certainly not from the dining table. At least, that was the case. I’m not getting rid of it, it will become part of my “homage” to the traditional seaside garden, and will provide great privacy. Elsewhere. But in preparation for the move, to encourage it to put down good strong roots in the warm late summer soil, I cut it back. Hard. And oh, what a difference!

sea view

This really doesn’t do it justice, and when you are stood up, say when walking through to the front of the house from the back, where we have the office, it literally stops you in your tracks. I am so very lucky. I also still have a lot of front garden still to guide your through, complete with mysteries, dilemmas, treats and surprises. A post for another day, methinks!

44 thoughts on “Introductions: The Front Garden part 1

  1. You will slowly but surely put your mark on your garden. I love those mature hydrangeas….a lot!!! Your white foliage white bloom flower is Rose Campion, Lychnis coronaria. Not sure about the other plant. Think I would give those evergreens a good pruning this winter. Tame them into shape or get rid of them.
    Lovely home and gorgeous garden.

    1. Hi Janet, I think those hydrangeas will divide opinion more than perhaps any other plant in the garden! They do seem to be a love-hate plant. I am tending towards getting rid of the large evergreens in the very front of the garden, there so many much more exciting plants I could grow in that space, plus it will give me the chance to clear the bindweed and brambles that I fear will otherwise take over. Thanks for the Lychnis pointer, I followed up on it and I think, actually, that mine is Lychnis flos-jovis, a perennial form with white or pink flowers.

  2. I enjoyed that very much! What I like about the hydrangeas is the colour of the one that can’t decide if it’s blue or pink. That’s gorgeous. I think your pink-flowered mystery plant is an Escallonia. I can’t wait for the next installment.

    1. Hi Lyn, there is something quite odd going on with the soil PH in that front garden, I have had readings of anything from slightly alkaline all the way through to quite acidic. No wonder the hydrangea doesn’t know what colour to be! Nice catch on the escallonia – though why does it have to be a salmon pink one?!

  3. Hi Janet,

    I forsee some of your Hydrangeas disappearing as you get your teeth into the garden ;) I know how it is, at least for me anyway. Left certain plants which didn’t offend me but then as I worked through the garden and changed things eventually they came under the spotlight and they had to go.
    As for your unknowns: I think one is a white rose campion but I don’t know the other.

    Looking forward to the next post and watching the garden change; mine is now at the point where there’s very little I can change. I’m not sure how I’ll stop myself buying plants??

    1. Hi Liz, you could well be right, but I will have to live with quite a few plants that I wouldn’t choose, at least for a while, just because I can’t afford to replace them yet! I see this is a programme of on-going continuous improvement…

      I sympathise on not being able to do much more to your own garden, I had reached that point with my previous one, which is what makes this so exciting. You may have to rein yourself in a little, but on the other hand, there are bound to be things that don’t quite work, and give it long enough and things will get too big and will have to be removed/replaced…

      1. Hi Janet,

        At least you will get some of your own plants from your garden soon – and after all, it’s getting late in the season now so you wouldn’t get much from anything you were to buy…
        Have you planned for spring bulbs? It’s recently dawned on me that it’s mid August and I should be ordering the bulbs… But I just don’t really think I need any this year? I’m unsure; you never know what will have died in all the rain.

        I’m going to find it very hard not to continue buying plants, but I’m sure my purse will be happy! One last major area I need to sort – the front garden, but I already have the plants I plan to put there – and that’s me finished I think.

  4. Great to be introduced and watch you get your teeth into the garden. It’s such a lovely view that the fuchsia has surrendered. I suspect you will find yourself ripping out more and more of the established plants as you run out of space for all the plants you want to add. We had a dilapidated escallonia which my Mum and I hard-pruned very carefully ready to be dug up with the other rescues, by the time the diggers came we let it go under to them, and I don’t think I regret it still, though they are very tough in coastal air and have pretty flowers. I like the white mophead hydrangea best, the pinks and blues I admire in other people’s gardens :), but they look their best in shady woodland such as Normandy’s Varengeville-sur-Mer.
    Sara x

    1. Hi Sara, scary how well you know me by now, I do indeed see a lot of ripping out in the future of this garden, but I will have to take it slowly just on budget grounds! Anything dilapidated or just plain ugly (yes, spotted laurel, it’s you I am talking about here…) will go anyway, and I think it will be interesting to get to know some of the plants I am not familiar with, the viburnams, for instance.

      I appear to have an escallonia with salmon pink flowers, which I think I will find very hard to love… Ironically, escallonia is one of the things I would like to plant in the front garden to add screening up near the house, just not salmon pink…

      Those hydrangeas are certainly polarising opinion – I agree about them looking best in a woodland setting, but I can feel myself falling a little bit in love with their stiff blowsiness. Must be the sea air…


  5. The evergreen with the pink flowers is one of my favourite plants Escalonia, you see it everywhere in Cornwall, I love the scented leaves and would love to be able to find it here as it stands strong salty winds. It makes a large shrub or hedge, I’m sure you’ll want to keep it. The silver leaved plant is Lychnis coronaria, a plant that I always forget the name of, I have some kind of mental block about it. It’s a biennial that will seed itself around very happily. They’ll probably some variation in the flower colour from white through all shades of pink to crimson. I don’t know which is harder to design, a blank canvas or a mature overgrown garden. you’ll have fun anyway. Christina

    1. Hi Christina, I love escallonia too, can’t believe I didn’t recognise this as one! I have to admit I rather wanted a white one as part of the planned screening in the front garden, I remain unconvinced by the salmon pink. We’ll see! As to the lychnis, I think I have actually got the perennial version called flos-jovis, or Flower of Job, but I had already decided I wanted to sow some of the Lychnis coronaria with vivid magenta flowers to plant near it, a friend of mine gave me seed a couple of years ago, so it will also remind me of her.

      1. Hi Janet. I don’t think the white version has the same intensity of perfume in its leaves (not sure why). the flowers aren’t so large as to make a big statement so I think you can tone their effect with other plants. I just so wish I could have this plant here. Christina

  6. What a place! Do you know what the winter will be like? Perhaps you need to train the hydrangeas to be cheer leaders. I’m glad it’s a viable but imperfect (to your tastes) garden. If it were perfect but not to your taste, you might feel guilty about interfering. If it were perfect and perfectly to your taste, you might feel little more than a caretaker of somebody else’s work. (Seeing the campervan must make you feel at home when you come in from out.)

    1. Hi Esther, isn’t it wonderful? You are exactly right, having lots of good things but also enough that absolutely has to go, or that must be drastically managed, makes this feel like an exciting project rather than a museum piece. I like the hydrangeas-as-cheer-leaders imagery, maybe they practice at night when no one is around? I will have to invest in a webcam with night vision… Not sure what the winters will be like yet, I know they get big storms sometimes, but I am assuming it will be on the mild side. Watch this space!

  7. Thanks for this instalment of your new garden. Shelter belts seem really important when I’ve read about coastal gardens. You’ll have to see if there are any local gardens open for the NGS so that maybe you can get some inspiration as what will work. A lot of coastal gardens do look a bit cliched but there are a few in Cornwall that I’ve visited that show you can be a bit more experimental. I can feel your excitement at all the possibilities in front of you.

    1. Hi Wellywoman. We’re lucky, in that the back garden, at least, is well sheltered, and is where I will be growing my veg. I’m not sure about the front yet, I certainly won’t be blocking that view, I’d prefer to plant only tough ground-huggers, but looking around it seems plenty survives well here. As to style, that will be an interesting adventure! The front garden is ripe for a pretty major revamp, but I need to have a clear feel for what I want before I get started, I think, and take a long term view of it. The NGS reminder is very timely though, there is a lovely-sounding garden just up the road which I really must try to visit.

  8. Hacking back that Fuchsia, yes, what a difference! What a lovely preview of your new garden, and what a view you guys have! Although lovely already, there’s so much potential there. Exciting times ahead, and looking forward how your garden changes as you get stuck in :) I think the Hydrangeas you have at the front are a keeper :)

    1. Hi guys, I still can’t quite believe what a huge difference the fuchsia hacking has made. It certainly makes me want to lighten and brighten that whole area, but first I have to excavate the pond and surrounding structure. Its all very exciting, plenty to keep me busy, both planning and doing.

  9. Your two mystery plants have been identified so I will just say that fuchsia cuttings are so easy to take, much easier than trying to move an old plant.You are going to have such fun remaking your garden, what sould go and what should stay as a windbreak, will look forward to future posts!

    1. Hi Pauline, you are, of course, right about fuchsia cuttings being easy, but if I can move that existing plant I will be able to take advantage of its large root system and get good screening next year far faster than by planting small plants. As to what stays and what goes, I can almost hear the plants nudging one another and saying “buck up, here she comes, look your best, you don’t want to go the way of that poor conifer”…

  10. Oh what a fine estate Janet! Your judicious fuchsia pruning has certainly opened up your view but you are wise to proceed with caution. As with all new acquaintances the best course of action is to take time to get know each other before you make your mind up :)
    I wonder what box of delights next spring will yield.

    1. Ah, but Anna, haven’t you heard, we make up our minds within the first 30 seconds of meeting someone?! But I do take your point – I am particularly wary of losing bulbs, because I can’t see the kind of gardener who loved and cherished this until he died not planting any…

  11. Hello, Janet’s front garden!

    There’s a lot of really promising stuff in there, and some that – hm. I’m probably about to commit hydrangicide myself, but I keep weakening when I take a close look at the flower heads. And your fuchsia action has made a real difference – lovely.

    Re your potential parking problem: I have a low wall, just seat height, that runs along the side of the gable end and under a small kitchen window (it covers pipework). I also live on a steep hill in a tourist area, and by the time people get to my level they need to sit down and stare in my kitchen. Big flower pots really work, and often (when I weed them, ahem) look good too…

    1. Hi Kate, the flowers really are rather stunning up close, aren’t they… I shall bide my time and see how good the autumn colour is – and how I feel about the bare stems in winter…

      That is good to hear on the pots front – our next door neighbours have offered 3 large concrete pots for the purpose, and have also offered to buy some bulbs for them if we do the planting, so it looks as if we are going to do this. I keep finding Stipa tenuissima and Ophiophogon lurking under other shrubs which could be pressed into service, and then I can play with different annuals each year!

  12. Lovely large front harden to ‘play’ with. Is the pink flowering shrub some sort of escallonia and is the white one Lychnis Coronaria Alba. I think others have suggested the same sort of names and beat me to it.
    I like the white hydrangea – my quercifolia is flowering already and I only planted it at the end of last year!

    1. Hi Sue, yes and maybe, I think, on the idents, since I am wondering if the Lychnis is the perennial form, ‘Flower of Job’, but time will tell! Congrats on the flowering quercifolia – I wonder if I should add one to the collection!!

  13. I wouldn’t know where to start with re-vamping your garden – and coastal gardens are supposed to be a bit difficult – must admit I’m not terribly keen on hydrangeas myself but if you got rid of them it would leave some terribly big gaps. I’ve got a feeling that you will be spending a lot of money on your kind of plants eventually.

    1. Hi Elaine, I think if this had been my first garden I would be completely overwhelmed! It helps that I had to revamp my previous garden fairly drastically as shrubs reached their maximum size and shade changed growing conditions. We’re on a very tight budget, so I will have to keep a lot of things and be careful what I remove – and grow a lot from seed! Fortunately that front garden is so sunny that I can use lots of annuals while I grow perennials and save up for things I can’t get seed for.

  14. I think the front garden is very pretty and you are lucky to move to a place that has an established garden. That way you can access and take your time installing your own ideas and plants. I still love your view the most though. A designers dream is good views.

    1. Hi Donna, that is so true, it is the view that makes it. I am spending ages gazing at it, photographing it, analyzing the colours in it, to echo in the garden planting. I am also really lucky to have so many mature plants, it means I can take my time gradually replacing them with ones more to my taste where necessary, without leaving the garden looking totally empty.

  15. Oh, yes, the view is stunning after your pruning of the Fuchsia! At first I was afraid you were going to say you would pitch it. I’m glad you will instead transplant it. I didn’t realize Fuchsia grows in Wales–lucky you! And those Hydrangeas: Wow! And the beautiful Rose, and the stunning Crocosmia! (Also, your house is so cute!)

    1. My only problem with the fuchsias is that I have inherited so very many! Most garden around here have at least one of the hardy varieties, they make great hedging plants in coastal areas, and you often see them growing wild too. I think I will need to move the rose too, it is getting swamped by the crocosmia, and I think it deserves space to be admired and grow large and hopefully heavy with flowers next year.

  16. Well Janet quite a task…I started with a blank slate and filled in within a few years…but I have been changing it again as I am getting rid of plants that just don’t do it for me anymore. We only have so much space, time and funds for plants so it has to be what we love…I love hydrangeas but they may be too much for your plan. The magenta colored Lychnis coronaria is stunning…it will be gorgeous with the other Lychnis. Can’t wait to see more and see what you decide.

    1. Hi Donna, that is pretty much what I expect to be doing too, removing things I regard as monstrosoties, leaving or possibly moving things that I might not choose but can live with and might grow on me, and then adding and gradually evolving the garden to becoming truly mine. Exciting!

  17. What is it with hydrangeas and their afinity for coastal conditions? Get them near the sea and they take on a new persona. I had to google Cemaes to see where you are now. The closest I have ever been is Conwy.

    1. Hi Les, I think they get into holiday mode, eat too much and start swaggering around! Conwy is lovely, I have clambered around the castle times without number as a child while on holidays.

  18. Oh, those hydrangeas! They are so beautiful, and the blooms are enormous; I know I couldn’t bring myself to cut down a single one. I’m sure someone has already identified the white flower, which is rose campion. I was just thinking how wonderful it is that you moved at this time of year so you could see the garden in bloom; it gives you all winter to think about what plants you already have and where you might want to move them. Cutting the fuschia was a good idea–if I had a view of the sea, I’d want to be able to see it, too!

    1. Hi Rose, I’m also looking forward to seeing what bulbs might pop up in the Spring, I think there might be a fair few irises.

  19. Janet you have a lot to play with even if it might not all be to your taste except for the bramble and bindweed at least they are garden plants, apart from the conifer (most conifers don’t regrow from old wood) all or most of the rest can be cut back to a more manageable size while you are planning and planning never really stops as gardens are ever changing projects, love the new view you have opened up, Frances

    1. I have to confess to having got rid of three conifers so far – none were interesting specimens, all were drying out the surrounding ground and swamping other plants. I have invested in a new and rather wonderful pair of loppers, so pruning large shrubs will now be straightforward, and I can indeed take my time. The Bindweed Wars have begun…

  20. Oh wow, just wow!! Gorgeous photos and garden, thank you for stepping me through hydrangea heaven!! I’d love to have a hydrangea hedge here, we have a stone wall at the front and it would look fantastic with hydrangeas hanging over the top. Hmmm, I feel another project coming on!

    1. Yep! It makes me wriggle with joy pretty much every day. Glad to hear you are lawn free out the front, so much easier to manage. hope by the end of this year I will be too…

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