The Crystal Garden in Wales

By Yvonne Michie Horn
This item appears on page 51 of the December 2018 issue.

Narrow paths connect “rooms” in the Inner Garden, this one dedicated to foliage in shades of green.

There are two "must dos" when visiting southwestern Wales' St. David's Head: a tour through the magnificent cathedral from which the peninsula gets its name, and walking a stretch of the pathway that echoes Pembrokeshire's dazzlingly gorgeous coastline. To those, I added a third on a late-May 2018 day: a visit to Sue Clark's Crystal Garden.

"What a glorious time of year for the garden!" Sue Clark exclaimed as she led the way to a picnic table centering a sunny, grassy area.

Beds of vibrant red poppies certainly caught my eye, as had the shapes and shades of diverse shrubbery — some in full springtime flower — punctuated by stands of maritime pine that edged the area where we were seated.

But that extensive and dense bramble of berry bushes?

"Purposefully kept as habitat," Sue reassured. "I get the berries on the outside. The birds can have the rest. They nest in the bramble, fledglings emerge, birdsong fills the garden."

"Everything planted was carefully chosen to shield the garden from the winds and salt air blowing in from the sea," she continued. "Winters here are relatively mild. We seldom get frosts, but windchill can be significant."

The garden's beginnings

Ocean winds and salt air were free to come blowing in when the Clarks — Sue and her husband, Paul — purchased the near-acre site in 1995. Once the playground of the wee village of Carnhedryn's primary school, the abandoned property offered a clean slate.

Bright poppies catch the eye in The Crystal Garden — Wales.

For some time the Clarks, who lived in Cheshire, had enjoyed going to Pembrokeshire on holidays. Now it would become their home.

While the Clarks had always tended a home garden, they began to develop their interest in earnest.

"We read about gardens, visited gardens, carried a Royal Horticultural Society source book with us wherever we went," Sue said.

They potted up plants and propagated others from seed and slips.

"If a plant caught our eye, we'd ask, 'Might we have a small piece of that?' We'd take it home and get it going," she said.

Some 1,000 varieties are now represented in The Crystal Garden, a garden of two distinct parts. From where we were seated, in what Sue referred to as the Outer Garden, it was apparent that the area around us, although lushly edged, made but a dent in the 1,000. Was there another?

"Come and see," Sue said, leading the way toward the house.

A treasure trove of small, gardened "rooms," which Sue and Paul christened the Inner Garden, surrounded the house and beyond, connected by narrow, plant-bordered paths.

The rooms, Sue explained, are color-coordinated. A "cool room" featured the blues and purples of ceanothus, columbine, cranesbill geraniums and more. A "warm room" bloomed in shades of yellow, rose and orange. The largest featured foliage in shades of green, from near yellow to near black.

Inner Garden secluded spot.

"We planned both the Inner and Outer gardens so that no matter when one visits, there would be something to see," Sue said, adding that with Paul's death in 2013 she has taken over the gardens' complete care. She also is on hand to welcome visitors to The Crystal Garden, which is listed as a National Garden Scheme property.

One last question I had — why is it named The Crystal Garden?

"Slow and organized is how crystals grow," she said. "True of The Crystal Garden, too."

And the strange structure looming through the shrubs and trees in the Outer Garden?

"Scaffolding from the building of our house, pieced together by Paul so that The Crystal Garden might have its own Crystal Palace, a folly of London's grand cast-iron-and-glass structure that housed the Great Exhibition of 1851."

With that, I bid good-bye to Pembrokeshire's very personal, very different and very special garden.

Planning your trip

Days and opening hours for drop-in visits to The Crystal Garden (Golwg yr Ynys, Carnhedryn, Solva, Pembrokeshire, Wales, SA62 6XT, U.K.) can be found on the garden's website, www.thecrystalgarden.org.uk.

Crystal Palace folly in the Outer Garden.

Visitors are also welcome by prior arrangement, April to September. (Call 01437 721 082 or email sueclark132@gmail.com.)

Admission costs £3.50 (near $4.50) per adult. Children enter free.

Just off the A487, 4 miles east of St. David's on the way to Fishguard, The Crystal Garden is located in the hamlet of Carnhedryn. A yellow National Garden Scheme sign marks the garden's location.

Email Yvonne Michie Horn at yhorn@sonic.net. Also visit www.thetravelinggardener.com.


Sue Clark, owner of The Crystal Garden in southwest Wales. Photos by Yvonne Michie Horn