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July 10 , 2009

The Garden in the Clouds: From Derelict Smallholding to Mountain Paradise


A warm, witty memoir of one man’s escape from the city in an unlikely quest to create out of a mountainous Welsh landscape a garden fit for inclusion in the prestigious Yellow Book – the ‘Gardens of England and Wales Open for Charity’ guide – in just one year. It was a derelict smallholding so high up in the Black Mountains of Wales it was routinely lost in cloud. But to Antony Woodward, Tair-Ffynnon was the most beautiful place in the world. Equally ill-at-ease in town and country after too long in London’s ad-land, Woodward bought Tair-Ffynnon because he yearned to reconnect with the countryside he never felt part of as a child. But what excuse could he invent to move there permanently? The solution, he decided, was a garden. In just a year he’d create a garden so special it would be selected for the prestigious Yellow Book – the famous National Gardens Scheme guide to gardens open to the public for charity. It’s an unlikely ambition to entertain in this most unlikely of settings, and one that soon sees Woodward driven by odder and odder compulsions – from hauling a 20-tonne railway carriage up the mountain to making hay with hopelessly antiquated machinery. The path to Woodward’s elusive sense of belonging turns out to be a rocky and winding one, taking in childhood haunts, children’s books and Proustian nostalgia trips. As the family battles gales, mud and Welsh mountain sheep of marble-eyed cunning, not to mention the notoriously fastidious NGS County Organiser, it remains deeply uncertain whether the ‘Not Garden’ and the ‘infinity vegetable patch’ (that grows only stones) will ever make the grade… Warm, thought-provoking and brilliantly funny, this is a memoir of a hopeless romantic with a grandly ludicrous ambition – an ambition to which anyone who’s ever dropped into a garden centre, or opened a packet of seeds, has already succumbed.
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