Inventor Ivan Williams's Minsterley garden

PUBLISHED: 16:28 19 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:34 20 February 2013

Inventor Ivan Williams’s Minsterley garden

Inventor Ivan Williams’s Minsterley garden

Sculptor and designer Ivan Williams found himself between a rock and a hard place when he took on his hillside garden, but necessity has proved the mother of invention, says Sarah Hart

Boulder and beautiful

Sculptor and designer Ivan Williams found himself between a rock and a hard place when he took on his hillside garden, but necessity has proved the mother of invention, says Sarah Hart

On a Shropshire hillside, from barren land deep in rock, shale and building debris, Ivan and Shirley Williams have fashioned a lush, sculptured garden.

Where there was once the eyesore of a toppled-down farmhouse, strewn rubbish and ground made almost impenetrable by layers of buried stone, flowers now bob their heads, shrubs bristle and a vegetable patch bulges with home-grown produce.

If youd stood here seven years ago you wouldnt recognise the place, comments Ivan, a sculptor and designer.

It was a complete mess. There were piles of blackened stones and building rubble, and trees were growing through the roofs of two old barns that wed bought to convert into cottages.

Today the garden at the aptly-named The Bog, near Minsterley, sits perfectly in harmony with its landscape. The peaks and troughs of its ridges and hollows, the swirls of its dry-stone walls, the natural look of its planting and the organic shapes of Ivans large wooden garden sculptures echo the surrounding rolling hills and the monolithic rocky ridge of The Stiperstones just across the valley.

In many ways the conversion of the barns proved more straightforward than the daunting transformation of the surrounding two acres of land. With the ground too solid for conventional gardening tools to penetrate, Ivan and Shirley resorted to a digger, a tractor, a sledgehammer and a giant pick-axe.

There was clay, shale, rocks and bricks, you couldnt put a spade into the ground. Even with a normal pick-axe you couldnt get more than an inch deep, Ivan recalls.

Once hed taken a chainsaw to a tangle of scrub he brought in a digger to claw out the rubbish and a lot of the stones and rocks before contouring the land to create ridges, terraces and dig out a pond and a basin for a vegetable patch.

We wanted to emulate the natural fall of the land and create a ha-ha effect so that when you looked out of the window the garden and the landscape below blended into one, he says.

The digging frequently unearthed huge boulders that had lain there since they were deposited by a mighty Ice Age glacier creaking over the Shropshire landscape more than 10,000 years ago.

Many tons of stone collected from the collapsed old farmhouse were used to restore the barns and build dry-stone walling sculptures and cairns. Ivan taught himself to build with dry stone by observing the traditional walls the big stones at the bottom, the small ones at the top.

Once the digger was out of the way Ivan borrowed an old Ferguson tractor, with a box-scraper hooked on the back, to level the land. The job was finished off by hours and hours of raking by hand to
form a tilt.

The lush grass we see today, remarkably, springs from a bed of shale and mulch instead of top soil.

We couldnt afford to lay turf, says Ivan.

I raked in grass seed as best I could and, because we couldnt get a spade in, I resorted to driving over the ground in my four-wheel-drive car to push the seeds in deeper. Once the grass started to grow I mulched and mulched the cuttings to build organic material.

Soil was imported to fill the basin for the vegetable patch and a dry-stone wall built around it to keep off the icy winter wind. Up here its often a few degrees cooler than further down the valley. Last winter the ground lay under a thick blanket of snow for two solid months.

Built on rock, shale and clay the drainage is good and the shelter allows produce to grow and survive here all year round: leeks, turnips, spring cabbage, potatoes, kale, runner-beans to name a few. Ivan beats the slugs with his own electrical slug deterrent, an invention that he hopes to manufacture in the near future.

He is a seasoned inventor. One of his designs, a multi-purpose wheelbarrow that can tackle slopes and steps and makes loading and dropping easier, is currently being manufactured and sold under the name Busy Barrow. It has certainly made lighter work of his own gardening.

Elsewhere in the garden the planting was undertaken using a grubbing mattock (a giant pick-axe) and a sledgehammer and iron bar.

Ivan has planted some 300 trees beech, oak and walnut to create sculpted hedgerows and a vital wind-break. He has developed an orchard of pear, apple, cherry, plum and damson trees. Each tree had to be planted using the sledgehammer and iron bar to break through the shale.

Shirley has taken care of the planting of flowers and ornamental shrubs in a few soil-filled borders in the relative shelter behind the main barn conversion, but generally, in the more exposed, larger part of the garden hardy perennials, such as evergreens and rhododendron, and wild varieties of plants do best.

Porous sandstone has been used to clad the pond, ideal because it absorbs water and encourages the growth of lichen. Ferns sprout around the water thats now home to frogs, newts, dragonflies and toads.
Reflecting the hills and the sky the pond is as much a part of Ivans vision for a garden that mirrors its landscape as the mounds, rocks and trees.

My ideas evolved. I didnt have an overall plan when we started, although I knew I wanted to treat the garden like a sculptural project interspersed with splashes of colour, Ivan explains.

I prefer the natural greenery, the wild look against the starkness of cultivated cut grass and the odd sculpture here and there.

For further information on The Busy Barrow visit

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